Do Governors Make Better Presidents?

With Chris Christie's presidential prospects sinking faster than a jumper off the George Washington Bridge and Mitt Romney rebuffing suggestions he make a third run for the White House, many Republicans are looking to other past and present governors for 2016.

The GOP team has a strong statehouse bench, especially since it intends to make this year's congressional races and the presidential contest two years later a referendum on Barack Obama's eight years in the White House.

Obama's name won't be appearing on any ballots in either election, but he'll appear in a multitude of campaign aids, mostly Republican, and it won't be flattering.

But Obama is not the only rationale of many GOP hopefuls who insist governors are best qualified to run the executive branch of the federal government.  Led by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and a number of his fellow state chief executives, the first objective of the campaign is to knock off a trio of senators closely identified with the tea party movement – Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.  They'll try to tie them to Obama as first term senators with a surplus of charisma and a shortage of experience.

Some of the governors must first be reelected in their own states — Walker and Ohio's John Kasich — before they can run for president.  Among the other governors and ex-governors who look in the mirror each morning and see the next president of the United States are Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Rick Perry of Texas, Susan Martinez of New Mexico and Jeb Bush of Florida.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton seems to have sucked all the oxygen out of that race, so until she drops out or looks vulnerable, that contest will get scant attention.  Only one governor — Martin O'Malley of Maryland — is admittedly putting together a just-in-case campaign.  Governors in the wings being mentioned are Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Virginian governor and current senator Mark Warner, who also must get reelected this year.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo so far says he's not interested.

A lot of non-governors will be running as well, but that's for a different report.

Seventeen of the 44 presidents had been governors, most recently George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Governors running for president will stress their experience dealing with day-to-day issues that most affect people.  They are vulnerable, however, on issues of national security and foreign policy.  The first they'll fudge by waving flags, visiting soldiers abroad from their home states and touting their tenure as commander in chief of their states' national guard.  The other will be dealt with by overseas travel, and that means photo-op pilgrimages to Israel, usually accompanied by their wealthy Jewish backers.

Once again Republicans will claim to be the most Israel-friendly party and label Democrats as somewhere between unreliable and unfriendly.  They'll spend many millions doing that – Sheldon Adelson is their bottomless money pit – but when all the votes are counted it won't make much difference.  Despite all their efforts, claims and money, Republicans still haven't been able to reach their 1988 level of Jewish support.

The reason is obvious. Candidates who echo the social conservative agenda and those with the harshest anti-government Tea Party rhetoric won’t get more than a trickle of Jewish votes.  As 2012 showed, a presidential candidate can't run to the hard right for the nomination and then make a U-turn toward the center for the general election.  Voters won't buy it. Etch-a- Sketch doesn’t work. 

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.