What GOP Governors Want You to Forget

Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Perry criticize Washington gridlock now. But they did their part to create it by helping elect the hardliners behind the shutdown.

National Journal
By Beth Reinhard
Add to Briefcase
By Beth Reinhard
Oct. 10, 2013, 5:15 p.m.

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.”

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