Though it seems this election season started the morning after the 2014 midterms, last night marked just the second state to have cast votes for a presidential nominee. Historically, Americans have rarely chosen senators as their presidents, turning instead to governors (or generals) with a leadership record that can be examined. But this is no ordinary election year.
On the Democrat side, the only remaining candidates (not that they had many in the first place, with the DNC telegraphing a coronation) are former Senator (and Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton, and sitting Senator Bernie Sanders. On the Republican side, the current frontrunners are casino mogul Donald Trump, and Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (though the last is a huge question mark after a disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire).
Incredibly, despite a very deep GOP field, several of its most accomplished governors (Rick Perry of Texas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana) dropped out of the race before the first ballot was cast. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas left after Iowa, and Jim Gilmore of Virginia remains in the race, but in name only — he’s secured fewer than 200 total votes in both states combined. In any other year, these governors would be considered prime candidates. Perry and Texas were responsible for nearly 100% of net job growth during the first six years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Walker took on the unions and billions in red ink, breaking the unions and restoring fiscal health to a very liberal state. Jindal took on an entrenched corruption in state government, led by Democrats for decades, and made Louisiana a magnet for business while introducing a very successful program of education reform.
Yet, as illustrated by an exchange between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio during last Saturday’s GOP debate, this year’s candidates face an increasingly angry, frustrated and cynical electorate, and many of the strategies for winning elections in previous years are simply not working. (Calling your opponent a “pussy,” as Trump did Cruz, does work. Go figure.)
Rubio was asked to respond to Christie’s criticism regarding his lack of experience in an executive leadership position, and how making speeches is not the same as accomplishing things. In response, Rubio listed the legislation he’d worked on as a member of the Florida legislature and the U.S. Senate, and then argued (in rebuttal to the idea that the damage done by Obama was from inexperience rather than ideology) that Obama intended all the damage he has done. In a rebuttal that seemed to rattle Rubio, Christie repeatedly mocked him for falling back on a canned, 25-second speech, and pointed out that Obama was also a first-term senator before seeking the presidency. Rubio inexplicably responded by repeating his talking point, and it appears that cost him dearly in Tuesday’s vote.
However, the support lost by Rubio didn’t seem to translate into a rise in support for Christie, who won just 7.5% in the state where he spent more time than any other GOP candidate.
Why is that?
In this election cycle — after the disaster of the Obama era in which his rigid leftist ideology drove him to shove his progressive agenda down America’s throat even at the cost of devastating losses for his party in the U.S. House, Senate and state legislatures — it seems most Republicans are not content with a nominee who will be a good steward of government, and who may or may not roll back the most damaging elements of the Obama years. Instead, they want a nominee who will undo Obama’s progressivism, repeal ObamaCare, fix the burdensome tax code, and in general restore that same hope in and love for American exceptionalism that made Ronald Reagan such a beloved figure. They want someone who will win. (It’s too bad some have found their answer in Trump.)
Christie was dead wrong about Obama and Rubio was exactly right. Obama has not been an incompetent, inexperienced president. He has sheer will and an undeviating pursuit of progressive ideology in order to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America. He has been spectacularly successful in his goals, and this wreckage we see is a feature of progressivism, not a bug.
Christie is correct that Rubio has limited executive experience. However, Rubio has a vision for America that resonates with many Americans seeking to restore American greatness, and maybe more importantly, he is charming and articulate in conveying his vision. Christie, on the other hand, has far more executive experience, and has probably been as successful as he could be in Democrat-controlled New Jersey. The problem for Christie is that his embrace of gun control and more liberal positions on other issues, his ambivalence on ObamaCare, and his bromance with Obama just before the 2012 elections is something that he will likely never be forgiven for by the GOP base.
Obama had a progressive vision for America that he veiled in lofty rhetoric lest the American people see his true aims. The conservative GOP frontrunners this year likewise have a vision, but are very clear about what it means: repealing ObamaCare, slashing taxes and spending, cutting back regulations, rebuilding the military, restoring individual liberty and the power of the free market, and a renewed embrace of American exceptionalism.