Republican senators running for president don’t exactly have history on their side. The party has only elected one sitting senator to the White House – Warren Harding, whose two-year term did not go well – and only a handful have even won their party’s nomination.
What’s interesting now, with four sitting GOP senators (and one former senator) in the national mix, is how eager Republican governors are to keep the historical pattern alive.
On Friday, for example, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) told the Southern Republican Leadership Conference that the candidates “in Washington” are all “fighting the good fight,” but “they haven’t won a whole lot of victories.” The message wasn’t subtle: Cruz, Rubio, Rand Paul, et al, are fine, but they don’t have any real accomplishments (unlike, say, Scott Walker).
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was even less guarded when making a similar point.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry has a message for three of the current Republican White House hopefuls: Run for governor before you run for president. Speaking about Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul, all three U.S. senators, Perry said in an interview last week with THE WEEKLY STANDARD that he’s hearing from GOP voters that they want executive experience.“I’ve had more than one individual say, ‘You know what, if you want to be the president of the United States, you ought to go back to your home state and be the governor and get that executive experience before you go lead this country,’” said Perry.
At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Perry added, “Leadership’s not just a speech on the Senate floor; it’s a record of action.”
To be sure, this governor-vs.-senator dynamic is not entirely new. Traditionally, governors chide senators for never having been a chief executive, while senators remind governors that they don’t know anything about federal policymaking and tend to clueless about foreign policy.
But I suspect this argument will be even more unavoidable this year, in part because there are 10 – 10! – current or former Republican governors eyeing the 2016 presidential race, and each one will be telling voters that they have the kind of skill set necessary to lead, unlike those Washington guys.
The other part of this, of course, is that the GOP senators in the race really don’t have much to run on in the way of substantive accomplishments – collectively, Cruz, Rubio, Rand Paul, et al have passed very few bills into law – and it’s a tough talking point to overcome.
What’s less clear is the degree to which primary voters and caucus goers care. It’s something to keep an eye on.