Memo to GOP Governors: Nobody Cares About Your Experience

August 17, 2015

by Steve Wagner


Governors Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker

Governors Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker

Half of the Republican presidential field is a current or former governor (9 of 17 candidates).  As you might expect, before the first Republican debate on August 2, a plurality of self-identified Republican poll respondents (39 percent) preferred one of those nine candidates (this is based on an average of three national surveys which were conducted both before and after the debate).  But after the debate, those nine governors are — collectively — pulling in only 30 percent of the vote, as opposed to 39 percent for the THREE “outsider” candidates taken together (Trump, Carson, Fiorina), and 23 percent for the five Senators (Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Santorum, Graham).

The gubernatorial candidates have individually lost an average of 2 percent each since the debate, while the outsiders have gained an average of 2 percent, and the Senators have gained an average of 1 percent.  “Team Outsider” is doing so well because Carly Fiorina is in the line-up (+6 in the average of those three before and after polls) plus Carson (+4; Trump is a drag at -3, but of course still the front-runner).  “Team Senator” is benefiting from Cruz (+4) and Rubio (+1).

Not one of the governor candidates is doing better today than before the debate.

The problem for governor candidates is that of differentiation: breaking out of the crowd.  They are all tempted to: a) trumpet their states’ records of success and b) highlight their executive experience, as though they have apprenticed as president.

As Trump showed when he went to Wisconsin (“Wisconsin’s doing terribly”), it is just too easy to undercut the story of a state doing well, which is Walker’s pitch.  Perry is highlighting Texas’ economic success, all of which is attributable to Dallas/Fort Worth area — and, really, how many voters buy that a governor is the driver of economic growth?  Jeb Bush’s Florida racked up impressive growth because it was riding the tiger of a housing bubble while he was governor.

As for the apprentice president pitch, Republican voters evidently are not looking for someone to competently manage the decline (to paraphrase Carly Fiorina).  So far, Republicans seem to be saying they prefer a fighter — someone who will take no prisoners in the fight against Clinton and the Democrats — or a complete political outsider.

The governors are going have to devise a new sales proposition for the voters: either a bold policy vision, sweeping reform, persuasive narratives on how to restore American greatness — or establish themselves as the best critic of Hillary.  This isn’t the year to be talking about what you did in the past.  Neither is it the year to be running on a personal narrative.

Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.


Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.

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