What Can the Controversial Republican Governors Contribute to the Tea Leaves?

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:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Associated Press photo.

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.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Yes, the iPhone in his hand displaying an image of billionaire Texas energy magnate and Tea Party financier David Koch is doctored. It's also very funny. Walker granted cynical but intrepid Liberal blogger Ian Murphy, who pretended to be Mr. Koch, a 20-minute phone call last spring and discussed some alarming details of his plans to railroad the bill to break Wisconsin's public employee unions through the State Senate. He also admitted to having considered stirring up trouble from within the union protests in Madison and likened breaking public employees' leverage to fighting Communism. Photo cleverly doctored at http://www.urantiansojourn.com.

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 on the O'Reilly Factor--not as a guest, but as the substitute for Bill O'Reilly before being elected Governor of Ohio. At least if his approval ratings don't rebound he'll have a place to go once he joins the tens of millions of unemployed.

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.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who bears an odd resemblance to Roy Batty, leader of the Replicants from Blade Runner. This was actually a portait produced by his political staff, though they discarded it in favor of less dark and reserved images.

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.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. The Governor has adopted some broadly-alienating policies, including signing a strange bill into law that allows him to deem incorporated municipalities "financially distressed," thereby giving him the power to appoint financial commissions authorized to break public employee and other municipal contracts by fiat, dismiss elected officials and even end a city's charter of incorporation. This power is at least granted some plausibility by the fact that several of Michigan's cities are the most rapidly-decaying 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.

Maine Governor Paul LePage. As his appearance somewhat-suggests, LePage is the 1st French Mainer to be elected Governor of Maine; due both to his plurality victory in last November's election and his controversial anti-labor and anti-regulatory stances, he has never been very popular in blue-tinted Maine.

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.


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