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Stirewaltisms: Hypernational Politics Dim Governors’ Chances
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Stirewaltisms: Hypernational Politics Dim Governors’ Chances

Why the Senate has become a safer path to the presidential nomination.


Gov. Greg Abbott’s performance in last week’s Texas primary was good enough to avoid a runoff, but his performance wasn’t nearly as impressive as his 90 percent showing in 2018 and he did it against a weak challenger in Allen West. Abbott is solidly favored to beat Democrat Beto O’Rourke in November, but Abbott’s decision to seek a third term is looking less like a launchpad to the White House and more like a slog. Frustrations over energy policy, overcrowded schools, coronavirus rules, and other controversies have taken their toll.

Meanwhile across the Gulf of Mexico, Abbott’s Floridian counterpart and potential 2024 presidential rival, Ron DeSantis, has been having his own troubles. Former President Donald Trump is looking to make his home-state governor pay for his weasel wording about his own vaccination status. DeSantis is seeming to show the strain of his time in office, barking at college students for wearing masks in a photo-op with the governor. It was a lot easier when he was cranking out Fox News hits and griping about what everyone else was doing when he was a back-bencher in the House of Representatives.

Out in South Dakota, where Kristi Noem went in what also seemed like a search of a bigger platform than the House for a potential 2024 run, strife with her fellow Republicans in the state legislature has made her path more challenging. 

So are we going to see a repeat of presidential election cycles going back to 2008? Will promising presidential candidates from the state level get ground down doing the ordinary work of governing while national politicians with less baggage move to the front of the pack?

Nine of the 18 presidents of the 20th century served as governors before taking the top job—10 if you count Warren Harding’s stint as lieutenant governor of Ohio. But this 0century, only one of four presidents has been a governor. Every presidential election between 1976 and 2004 featured at least one current or former governor as a major party nominee. Only one major party nominee since 2004—Mitt Romney in 2012—has previously served as a governor.

The reasons are pretty obvious. In the old days, service in a remote state capital gave aspiring presidents a place to build a record of accomplishment, an organization, and a war chest away from the glare of national media attention. George W. Bush was the last candidate to follow the playbook, racking up wins in Austin before rolling out his national campaign. Until the end of the 20th century, the Senate offered a riskier path to power because of not just the scrutiny of the national press corps—think of Gary Hart and the Monkey Business—but also the necessity of casting controversial votes on a regular basis.

Now, though, Congress doesn’t do anything on a regular basis and the leaders of both parties in the Senate have become masters of the prevent defense. It is in their perceived interests to shield incumbent members from meaningful legislative action whenever possible, which lines up just fine for senators with presidential aspirations.

Members like Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz can rack up perfect records for primary voters and never be forced to be part of a bipartisan vote if they don’t want to. Prior to Barack Obama, the Senate was seen as a high-risk path because one first needed to build a record of accomplishment, which required compromise and serious effort. Obama showed being a lightweight could be a good thing and that the Senate could be made into a well-lit stage for political dramatists. He spawned dozens of imitators, including the current vice president. 

And in the era of narrow-cast partisan news, there’s little incentive for being a dealmaker. Joe Manchin might do fine in a Republican primary in 2024, but Democrats would recoil. But there is a high premium placed on abstract culture war issues that generate lots of outrage. Not only does that play to the strengths of the empty suits in the Senate, it is a dangerous enticement to governors to try to surf the zeitgeist and get some attention out in the hinterland. As Abbott, DeSantis, and Noem all have shown, chasing trendy issues to get into the national discussion can undercut one of the main advantages governors have: the chance to avoid some national controversies. Even as DeSantis has leveraged the culture war to his advantage at home, he has made himself into a very polarizing potential 2024 general election candidate.

Republicans would be well-advised to pick a governor for 2024. A candidate who could be both anti-Washington and qualified for high office at the same time would seem to be ideal. The question is whether any of the Republican governors can find a way to make the most of their advantages.

Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


Biden job performance
Average approval: 42 percent
Average disapproval: 51.2 percent
Net score: -9.2 points
Change from one week ago: ↑ 3.8 points

[Average includes: Ipsos: 45% approve-49% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve-51% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist College: 47% approve-50% disapprove; Ipsos: 43% approve-54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 37% approve-52% disapprove]

Generic congressional ballot 
Democrats: 42.6 percent
Republicans: 45 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +2.4 points
Change from one week ago: No change

[Average includes: ABC News/Washington Post: 42% Democrat, 49% Republican; Quinnipiac University: 44% Democrat, 46% Republican; Fox News: 45% Democrat, 49% Republican; USA Today/Suffolk University: 39% Democrat, 37% Republican; CNN: 43% Democrat, 44% Republican]


Writer Tammie Teclemariam evokes our collective nostalgia for the cavernous bars and grilles of yesteryear in this piece for Grub Street: “It was just after 6 o’clock on an unseasonably pleasant Wednesday, but the guy at the door was already out of luck. It would be at least half an hour for a seat, he was told. By 7, the wait had only grown longer as a steady collection of young Brooklynites squeezed into Bernie’s, the three-year-old restaurant on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint that I decided to check out after hearing it’s ‘like Applebee’s, but good.’ …  If … creative chefs are finding a surprisingly receptive audience in the actual suburbs, an opposite phenomenon appears to be taking hold here in the city, where nostalgia-minded restaurateurs are opening businesses that have been painstakingly designed to feel as though they have just arrived in town, fresh off the bus from Sheboygan or maybe Shaker Heights. … Who doesn’t want an upscale Bloomin’ Onion when the world feels so heavy? … The word you’re most likely to encounter on the menu is ‘loaded,’ and salads are often served as a ‘wedge.’” 


Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The Perdue network was once the most formidable political operation in Georgia. But former U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp has fractured the powerful family’s longtime loyalists. At least four key allies of the Perdue family political machine are openly backing Kemp, while many others are pointedly staying on the sidelines ahead of the May 24 matchup between the former friends. And the highest-profile member of the clan, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, is likely to stay neutral over his first cousin’s challenge after he was appointed the chancellor of Georgia’s higher education system at Kemp’s urging. The rift showcases the bitter and sometimes emotional fissures within the state GOP after David Perdue challenged the first lifelong Republican governor in state history, sparking an internal firefight that Democrat Stacey Abrams hopes will boost her chances in November.”

New poll puts Kemp 11 points up: Fox News: “Over a year after narrowly losing re-election to the U.S. Senate from Georgia, David Perdue finds himself trailing Gov. Brian Kemp by 11 points in the Republican gubernatorial primary contest. That’s according to a new Fox News Poll of Georgia Republican primary voters, released Tuesday. Kemp receives 50%, while Perdue, whom former President Donald Trump endorsed, garners 39% among GOP primary voters.  Ten percent are unsure or would vote for someone else. … Among the subgroup of those with a strongly favorable opinion of the former president, sentiments shift in Perdue’s favor: 39% to Kemp and 52% for Perdue. He trails far behind, however, among those who view Trump unfavorably: 70% Kemp vs. 15% Perdue.”

Enten: Dems struggle to appeal to Hispanic voters: CNN: “The Democratic Party’s early 2000s dream of an emerging majority based on a diversifying electorate has run into reality. Democrats lost the 2016 presidential election, and they barely won in 2020. Part of their problem was declining support among White voters. But the 2020 election also pointed to another problem: Hispanic voters (who are growing as a portion of the electorate) moving toward the Republican Party. Recent polling — and now this week’s Texas primaries — show that these Republican gains don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. … All told, 27% of the Texans who voted Tuesday in the 16 most Hispanic counties cast a ballot in the Republican primary. This may not seem like a lot but consider that in 2018, just 15% of those who voted in either the Democratic or Republican primary cast a ballot on the Republican side. … In Starr County, 24% of primary votes were cast on the Republican side Tuesday. It was basically nothing in 2018, with a mere 0.2% of primary votes being cast on the Republican side. That’s a 24-point shift.”

Trump-endorsed N.C. Senate candidate not budd-ing: Politico: “Donald Trump’s pick in North Carolina’s contentious Republican Senate primary is struggling to gain traction, raising concerns among his powerful backers about his prospects in a race that is key to control of the Senate. Rep. Ted Budd, the congressman Trump unexpectedly endorsed last summer, has fallen in recent polling and lagged in fundraising, leaving him chasing the front-runner, former Gov. Pat McCrory. The presence of former Rep. Mark Walker in the primary — who is competing with Budd for the most conservative, pro-Trump voters — is further complicating Budd’s efforts with just over two months to go until the state’s May primary. … While Budd has kept a low profile in recent weeks, including declining to participate in a Republican candidate debate, Walker — who has struggled to raise money throughout the campaign — has relied on his strong suit of retail politics to generate a flurry of local earned media coverage.”


Colorado county clerk indicted for part in trying to steal second term for Trump—AP

Elections boss in Texas’ largest county resigns after primary botch—Texas Tribune

Mark Meadows under scrutiny for dubious residency—The New Yorker 


“Anger and hate in this situation is a normal reaction and important to validate. But it is important to channel it into something useful, such as making incendiary bombs out of empty bottles.”—Olha Koba, a psychologist in Kyiv, speaking to the New York Times.


“While I know ‘half-baked ideas’ are kind of Jonah’s thing, I have one that I would like to hear you respond to. In an effort to force Congress to act like Congress rather than a Parliament, I would propose a very simple Constitutional Amendment: Remove the President’s veto power. Presidents no longer use their veto power to stop unconstitutional legislation, rather they use it to be king for 4-years. The Supreme Court would continue to review the Constitutionality of legislation, but Congress would be forced to actually drive the agenda, rather than falling back on “whatever our guy wants” or “nothing their guy wants.” Your thoughts?”—Paul Mangelsdorf, Raleigh, North Carolina

It’s an interesting thought experiment, Mr. Mangelsdorf: In periods of divided government, when the party in control of Congress passed legislation, it would automatically become law. This would certainly increase the value of each congressional seat and put lots of pressure on both chambers to pass more legislation. But I wonder if it would also accelerate the partisanship we’ve seen in the Senate. I can easily see the death of the filibuster and the rise of the imperial Senate where 51-seat majorities rain hellfire down on the president of the opposing party. Imagine what 2019-2021 would have looked like, for instance. I think the presidential veto, on the whole, does more to foster bipartisanship than it does harm. In divided government, the minority party in Congress has more leverage. Look also at the trouble Biden and Trump both had in advancing their agendas even with one-party control. The veto does too much important work in balancing power, I think, to sacrifice for the sake of encouraging Congress. 

“Just a word to say thanks for your Stirewaltisms newsletter and I am glad to have you writing for the Dispatch. And if Samantha puts up with you, she must be a good egg.”—David McCollum, Townsend, Tennessee

Certainly a better egg than I deserve! Thank you for your kind words, Mr. McCollum. Glad to have you with us.

“In [last week’s] Stirewaltisms you mentioned “But if I could actually have what I wanted, it would be to abolish primary elections, the most terrible holdover from the 1970s this side of bell bottoms. I’d repeal the 17th Amendment while I was at it, too as part of an effort to push more power down to state legislatures.” And while I don’t particularly disagree (although as a teen in the ’70s, I thought bell-bottoms were kind of cool), if I had it my way, the one thing I would change is to require significant majorities to pass legislation at all levels of government. Something along the lines of 2/3 or 3/4. Let me explain further, as I know that your reaction is probably along the lines of  ‘But then nothing would ever pass.’ First of all, that wouldn’t be so bad. But what I feel would happen pretty quickly is that upon the realization that nothing radical could pass, legislation would be proposed that aimed at incremental change, and/or that truly was bipartisan to some degree. Since during the first couple of years we would still have wild partisans in office, and they wouldn’t get anything done, we would start to elect more moderate candidates who spoke of things that could get passed into law.”—Bruce Jordan, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania 

I’m going to ignore the bell bottoms part, Mr. Jordan … I think maintaining the supermajority for legislation in the Senate is very important, but I’m not sure I’d like to expand that. Certainly it seems like a bad idea on the local level where the powers are fewer and the electorate less diverse. As for the House of Representatives, I think it’s important for the most democratic entity in the federal government to closely reflect the will of the people. Generally, I’m dubious about plans that rely on periods of chaos to deliver desired outcomes. Unintended consequences are usually unanticipated consequences. And in the case of universal supermajorities, the result of the chaos could take us further toward authoritarianism, not away from it.

“While I was working in the interior of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) during the time that Mobutu [Sese Seko] was president, I asked the village preacher if he hoped that Mobutu would be defeated in an upcoming election. (I knew that the election was a scam, but I was curious as to what this preacher would say.) His reasoning was this:  every time a new leader comes in, he grabs all the wealth that he can and leaves the rest of the country in poverty. The only hope we have is that some day Mobutu will realize that he already has all the wealth he will ever need and will then start to spread the wealth to help the rest of the nation. But if a new president is elected, such hope would vanish because he would have to start from scratch and begin to exploit the nation all over again! Now I don’t think that America is in the same boat as Zaire was, but I do believe that the quality of politicians we have simply reflects the quality of the citizens who elect them. Efforts to protect us from re-electing poor leaders term after term will not help matters much. In fact, it might undermine any sense of personal responsibility when we go to the polls. Yes, our nation may end up falling apart if we keep voting in the same old cronies, but that would be the fault of us citizens collectively and not a disaster brought on by limiting our right to vote our consciences.”—Mark Huddleston, Omaha, Nebraska

I certainly take your point about citizens in a republic getting the government they deserve, Mr. Huddleston, but I’m not so sure about your assertion that ideas like age and term limits would do more harm than good. We already have presidential term limits and minimum age requirements and I don’t tend to think that they have eroded the sense of agency in the electorate. The reason the Framers made it so hard to amend the Constitution was so that big changes would be the result of broad consensus. I believe any changes to the requirements for office that had made their way through that process would have big buy-in. It may be true that America deserves bad leadership and to fall apart for our wicked ways, but I want our country to benefit from the same mercy we have been shown before. I think the world needs us, and I believe we have much more to do.

You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and always good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission anonymous. My colleague, the ever-resourceful Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack! 


Congratulations to our winner for capturing Donald Trump’s voice better than anyone this side of James Austin Johnson.

“At first I thought Volodymyr was from the Harry Potter books I never read but then I realized he had the scoop on that Biden kid who likes unearned money and girls more than me.”—Douglas Leo, Palatine, Illinois

Honorable mention:

“But Putin found 11,780 Georgia votes in his underwear drawer last week, which means I won the election! What’s not to love about the guy? And who cares if it’s not the Georgia in America?”—Mary Carol Miller, Greenwood, Mississippi

Readers should send in their proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun! 


KXAN: “It’s not exactly the bat moviegoers in north Austin signed up to see, but it certainly made for a good show. During a 7 p.m. viewing of the new “The Batman” movie, one of the moviegoers says the film had to be paused because there was a real live bat flying around the theater. That viewer says management paused the movie and made multiple attempts to get the bat out of the theater, but those attempts were ultimately unsuccessful. The theater offered to give everyone another ticket and cover tabs, people inside the theater reported, but the majority of the crowd opted to stay and watch the film, “bat and all.” … “To ensure a prank like this does not again occur, we will be adding additional security and checking all bags upon guest entry,” Heidi Deno, the general manager [of the theater], told KXAN.” 

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a book on media and politics due out in August. Samantha Goldstein contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.