As I’ve said before, I like many of the people running for the Republican nomination this year. Unfortunately, it seems that almost everyone has been struggling since a certain celebrity joined the race. There is still a long way to go before the actual presidential primaries and caucuses take place, but there is already plenty happening that is worthy of attention. Several candidates made notable speeches or appearances this week, and I’d like to spend a little time on four of them, all of whom happen to be current or former governors.
On Tuesday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush appeared as a guest on the much-advertised premiere episode of “Late Night with Stephen Colbert.” After watching the interview, I have a few thoughts. In general, I’m not sure that late night talk show appearances are really fitting for politicians. I understand that they are an opportunity to be seen by large audiences, including many people who don’t usually follow politics, and to perhaps present a more relatable side of oneself, but I think that there can also be risks in trying to mix the often very serious business of politics with the realm of celebrity entertainment. As for Jeb Bush on Colbert, I thought that he might have been a little uneasy, especially at first, and there were a couple of awkward moments, but I think that the segment as a whole was OK for him. For those who already had a basically positive view of Gov. Bush, he didn’t say anything that should change that. In the interview, l thought he came across as a likable guy, and he made references to wanting to cut spending, reform Washington, and have more limited government, all of which should appeal to potential conservative voters. (I also must admit to being rather amused by Colbert’s seemingly amazed need to confirm that Gov. Bush was actually saying that his brother hadn’t been conservative enough about spending during his administration.) However, it seems to me that one of Jeb Bush’s biggest challenges right now is to overcome the opposition of those on the Right who feel he’s too “moderate,” and I don’t think he helped himself with them by making what he described as a “heretic” statement that he doesn’t think Barack Obama has bad motives (but is wrong on lots of issues.) I don’t know that the opinion itself is a particular problem, but pointing out on national television that you’re distancing yourself from what many others in your party believe, presumably with the intention of showing your reasonableness to the general public, may not be the best way to win over those already concerned with your nonstandard positions on one or more other issues (most notably immigration.) Overall, then, I’d guess that Jeb Bush’s late night guest spot probably leaves him in pretty much the same position as he was before. As someone who wishes him well, I hope that he will be able to find ways to clearly and strongly present his record and proposals in the best way possible in the future so that his merits as a candidate can be judged fairly.
After his campaign got off to a strong start earlier this year, Governor Scott Walker, from my state of Wisconsin, has been having a rough time for the last several weeks -- so much so that National Review Online ran a lengthy piece a few days ago about “What Went Wrong” with his campaign and whether he can recover. As a long time admirer of the governor, I would probably have a little friendlier take on some things, but I still found the piece interesting and informative. It has seemed lately that Governor Walker has been hurting himself unnecessarily with some things he’s said, and I don’t know what has caused this. Perhaps he is, as suggested in the article, trying too hard to please all segments of the Republican party at the same time. Or, maybe he’s attempting to present himself in a different way to compete with other candidates who seem most popular right now. Whatever the reason, it has pained me to follow his recent troubles and accompanying drop in the polls. This past Thursday at Eureka College in Illinois, Governor Walker gave a speech which has been described as an attempt to “reset” his campaign. I watched a video of the speech, and I think it was pretty successful. Governor Walker seemed more comfortable as he returned to discussing his record in Wisconsin and why he believes his experiences here have prepared him to be President. He also talked about some of the things he intends to do if elected, including getting rid of the Iran deal and Obamacare, and repeatedly stated that he doesn’t “back down.” I’m personally not sure that it’s the best idea to say that you intend to do a long list of things “on day one” of your presidency, as that might prove to be a rather tall order, and I’m also not particularly fond of the slogan expressing an intent to “wreak havoc” on Washington, which seems too destructive rather than positive to me. However, while I might prefer different phrasing for these notions, I can appreciate that the candidate is really expressing an urgency to eliminate the current administration’s bad policies and a desire to make changes to the way things are currently done in our nation’s capital. All in all, I think that Governor Walker’s speech this week was a good step in the right direction for his campaign. I hope that he can follow it up with a strong debate performance next week and, going forward, also present a clear message not only when giving a speech on his own terms, but also when answering questions from others.
Also on Thursday, Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, gave a rather unusual speech at the National Press Club in which he presented his assessment of Donald Trump’s candidacy. I’m not sure I would have recommended that someone deliver a speech specifically dedicated to this purpose. Perhaps it might be better for a candidate to present his or her policy ideas on one or more issues and then to contrast this type of substantive material with the Trump campaign by making the sort of case Governor Jindal shared. That being said, I have to say that I did appreciate Gov. Jindal’s comments very much (and he did also address a number of other topics in the subsequent question and answer period.) I saw a headline of a column somewhere referring to the speech as “desperate,” but I watched the video, and Governor Jindal was quite calm and collected as he spoke. He was actually rather more positive about Mr. Trump than I would have been, as he said that he liked the “idea” of Trump’s type of unorthodox candidacy and also called Trump’s campaign and actions entertaining, while I have just found Donald Trump’s antics and rhetoric annoying and distressing. Beyond that, though, I think that Governor Jindal was correct to refer to Donald Trump as a narcissist and egomaniac who isn’t really committed to any movement or party and to state that we really can’t know what he would actually do were he to be elected. It really shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to have to point these things out repeatedly, as they should be evident from even brief exposure to Mr. Trump’s campaign, but, alas, it seems a significant portion of the electorate has determined that he is somehow the best person to become our next president. I don’t know if Governor Jindal’s sensible remarks will influence anyone to change their mind about whether or not to support Donald Trump, but I’m glad that he made them, and I also think that voters should give an experienced governor like Mr. Jindal more consideration as a serious candidate for the nomination than he seems to have been receiving so far.
Finally, on Friday, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, announced that he was suspending his presidential campaign. Governor Perry is another successful and experienced political executive who didn’t seem to get the type of consideration from potential voters one would think his record would merit. I thought that his suspension speech contained a lot of good material, and I find it very unfortunate that we are losing a good candidate so early in the process. Governor Perry stated that he feels there is a “tremendous field” of Republican candidates in the race this cycle, and I would agree, but I think it’s somewhat less so with his departure.
While plenty of interesting things took place this past week in the primary process, as I suppose is always the case, next week promises to be even more eventful, as the presidential hopefuls will be participating in the next high-profile debate. We’ll have to see what happens there, but I am hoping it goes well for all of the serious candidates in the race.