Does the GOP Governors Split Foreshadow the Party’s Future?

Robert Pear and J. David Goodman take to the pages of The New York Times with the provocative notion that the debate between Republican governors over the stimulus package “will go a long way toward shaping how the national party redefines itself in the wake of its election defeats of recent years”.

I’m not really sure how true that is. The issues posed by the stimulus bill are only tangentially related to those of “ordinary” politics. But if this is the future, then it’s a bit hard to see it playing out well for Republicans:

For some — mostly Democrats but also a few prominent moderate Republicans — the bill represents an admittedly imperfect but desperately needed infusion of cash that will help them avert thousands of layoffs.

For others — predominantly conservative Southern Republicans — the flaws partly outweigh the benefits. And for those with presidential aspirations, the strong stance in opposition to the Obama administration may be seen as a way to stand out and stake a claim to leadership.

If it’s true that the only kind of politics that will play in a GOP presidential primary is the kind of politics that plays in Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina but not California or Florida (!) then it’s just hard to see how Republicans get to a majority. At the same time, I recall having read a lot of commentary about how the rise of Iraq War opponents such as Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama was going to doom the Democrats to some kind of big city oblivion. Instead, well, we got what we have.

I think the main lesson this teaches us is of the transcendent importance of events in political matters. Opposition to the Iraq War was fairly unpopular at one point, but as time when on it became a majority position far outside of Vermont and the Bay Area. At the moment, opposition to the stimulus only seems politically tenable in the Deep South and the Mormon belt. But public opinion on the economy is quite different today from where it was 18 months ago. Why? Well, obviously because the actual situation changed. And 18 months from now — and 18 months from then — things will likely change again. They might change in such a way as to make the stimulus skeptics look utterly discredited or they come to seem rather prescient to some people.


But even if the Jindal/Sanford/Barbour line does come to be more popular in the future, there’s still the question of what you’re going to be for along with what you’re against. And as Joe Klein observes, what Jindal seems to be for is tax cuts for wealth individuals. I don’t have that high an estimation of the public’s memory and I could see people yearning for a returning to the failed economic strategies of the Bush years in 2016 or 2020, but I think it strains credulity to think that voters will have forgotten by 2010 or 2012 that this is a governing philosophy that’s been tried and found wanting.