I’d just like to develop a clever thought that David Wiegel had in Slate back in mid-March: If you consider the States the most-controversial Tea Party-backed Republican Governors govern and their minimal levels of public support, they may constitute the greatest threat to the Republican Party.
Most-recent approval ratings for the controversial Republican Governors:
Chris Christie: 44% (Quinnipiac University, mid-July)
Christie has the highest approval rating of this sextet; it’s worth noting he is the only one who has to work with a Democratic State Legislature.
Scott Walker, Wisconsin: 37% (University of Wisconsin/Madison Badger, mid-July)
Early-August’s setback for Democrats aside, a recall of Governor Walker would probably succeed.
John Kasich, Ohio: 35% (Quinnipiac University, mid-July)
As in Wisconsin, it seems that busting public employee unions is even more-unpopular than public employee unions. In accordance with State law the measure is up for a referendum in Ohio; advance polling suggests it will fail.
Rick Scott, Florida: 35% (Quinnipiac University, early-August)
Incidentally, in the same poll 45% of Floridians disapproved of Scott personally, which if valid to other poll methodologies makes him the most personally-disliked Governor in the country.
Rick Snyder, Michigan: 33% (EPIC-MRA, late this month)
Michiganders seem to doubt he has any ideas that will turn around the State’s dismal economy.
Paul LePage, Maine: 31% (Critical Insights, mid-May)
If reproducible I think this makes LePage is the least-popular Governor in the country. This figure looks somewhat less-extraordinary when you consider that he was elected in a 3-way race.
States like Florida, Ohio and Michigan are bad choices of place to alienate independents with ideological government, particularly if these States are in the most-dire economic straights and these States can’t demonstrate competitive job and GDP growth. Consider that with the exception of comparatively-viable Christie, who has to propose his reforms to a Democratic State Legislature and has been in office since early 2010, all of these Governors are polling throughout the 30s after about half a year in office. They have a lot of time to redeem themselves, but poll numbers this low are subject to significant inertia and eventually less ideologically-beholden State legislators have to consider what their Governor’s policies are doing to their brand. (Congressional Republicans learned this lesson only the hard way in 2006 and 2008 as a very-different mold of ideological Republican, George W. Bush, led them off a cliff with voters; to a lesser extent this is also what happened to Congressional Democrats who had governed from the Left with President Obama in 2010.) These Governors–all but Christie representatives of strategic swing States–have to consider whether to take a different political tack for the remaining 3 1/2 years of their 1st term (and probably considerably less than that for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker) or to pat themselves on the back for their ideologically-preconceived jobs well done and wait for the expected improvement in the economy. So far, the only mountains they have moved are the swing voters in their States–away from support for their party. It turns out you can’t become as popular of a Republican as Rick Perry by trying to turn your own State into Texas as fast as circumstances may allow. This may require sacrificing not only your own political standing but some of the qualities your people love about their State.
I’d like to close with some nuance: I am not saying Democrats should hope that President Obama can count on a backlash against Republicans helping him in these swing States. He is in serious political trouble because he has so far failed to stimulate employment and bring confidence back to the housing market. My point is that Republicans conversely cannot hope to escape damage to their brand simply because of skepticism towards President Obama’s economic policies.