Republican governors with an eye on 2016 have been downright indignant about the federal-government shutdown.
"I think it's always irresponsible if you're running the government to be advocating for shutting it down," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.
"We're done as governors letting the dysfunction of Washington define conservative principles and ideas," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
"The idea that you got to defund government over one program is a bit nonsensical," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
But these same politicians played a role in creating a gridlocked Washington by helping to elect the very tea-party hardliners who refuse to fund the government unless the health care law is delayed. While these governors build national profiles by casting themselves as problem-solving chief executives, the increasingly unpopular capital serves as a convenient foil—despite their personal ties to some of the ringleaders of the shutdown.
- Jindal appeared in television ads touting John Fleming, who has called Obamacare "the most dangerous law passed in modern times," and Bill Cassidy, whose shutdown machinations were the target of a comic bit by Comedy Central's The Daily Show. Jindal also backed Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of a caucus of the most conservative representatives, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who spent the summer rallying support for defunding Obamacare. "Only full repeal will do," declared a fundraising appeal from Rubio's political committee in July.
- Christie headlined fundraisers last year for one of the most high-profile House conservatives, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, known for inflammatory remarks about illegal immigrants and rape and incest victims. Back in 2010, King urged House leaders to sign a "blood oath" that would include a repeal of the health care law in every budget bill. In response to criticism of his support for King, Christie said, "I make decisions based on, in the main, do we generally agree on our plans for the country's future. And I do generally agree with Congressman Steve King on those issues." Now running for reelection in a Democratic-leaning state, Christie is airing a television ad in which he says, "Compromise isn't a dirty word."
- Perry led rallies for another staunch Obamacare opponent elected last year, Randy Weber, who ranked as the most conservative lawmaker in the Texas Statehouse. "He's a bold leader that doesn't flinch," Perry said in a quote displayed on Weber's campaign website. "If anyone can fight to repeal Obamacare, stand up to the Obama agenda, defend states rights, and turn Washington around, it's a rock-solid conservative like Randy Weber." In the tea party wave of 2010, Perry endorsed Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who said recently he would vote against raising the debt ceiling—possibly causing the nation to default on its debts—if Obamacare is not reined in.
These three governors are not the only Republicans in state leadership eager to distance themselves from Capitol Hill. The Republican Governors Association has launched a national campaign called "The American Comeback Project," which seeks to highlight successful conservative governance by drawing contrasts with Washington.
Republican governors "aren't saying they disagree with everything House Republicans do, but on the shutdown there needs to be a difference in leadership and how things are handled," said Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican governors. "You're not going to agree with someone 100 percent of the time."
Still, Democrats fault these governors for encouraging candidates with a confrontational, hell-or-high-water style that doesn't allow for compromise or shades of gray. For example, on the first day of the government shutdown—the same day uninsured Americans could start signing up under the new health care law—Rep. Fleming appeared on conservative talk radio. A caller compared the fight against Obamacare to the "moral victory" over slavery and segregation. "I think your caller is precisely correct," Fleming said.
The Louisiana Democratic Party has gone after Jindal this week, urging him to call on Fleming, Scalise, and Cassidy to fund the government and assailing remarks he made to The New York Times in August while attending the National Governors Association meeting: "We absolutely should use whatever opportunity and tactic we can to repeal and replace Obamacare," Jindal had said.
"Bobby Jindal can't have it both ways on the government shutdown," said Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk in a written statement. "He can't talk tough and declare the shutdown 'a false threat,' then turn around and say he's 'frustrated' by what's happening in D.C."
Republican political consultant Curt Anderson, who advises Jindal, noted that the governor supports efforts to nix the law—which the current standoff apparently won't accomplish. "He's not going to say their intentions are bad, but in the end, you don't fight to fight, you fight to win." Anderson added that Jindal is "proud" of the representatives he helped elect. "We're not ashamed of our support for any of those people, and he would campaign for them again," Anderson said. "I think he's been exceedingly clear in saying he places the blame for the shutdown at the president's feet."
This article appears in the October 11, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.