Gov. Chris Christie continues to earn kudos from conservatives and liberals alike. Gov. Bob McDonnell has a 64 percent approval after less than a year as Virginia’s governor. Both Christie and McDonnell are garnering praise for doing what inside-the-Beltway Democrats refuse to do — cut spending, resist calls to hike taxes, and stand up to public-employee unions. They, and others like Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, and Tim Pawlenty, undermine the Democrats’ patter that Republicans are too wacky or too unrealistic to govern. They provide a vivid contrast to Obamaism and to the notion that only by a massive increase in the size of government and corresponding tax increases can we pull out of our economic tailspin.
Any one of these conservatives would be a formidable rival to Obama in 2012. Obama will no doubt try, as he did in 2008, to run against someone not on the ballot — George W. Bush. By 2012 that will, I suspect, provoke groans if not laughter. The choice, if Republican primary voters are savvy, will not be Obama vs. Bush but Obama vs. a not-Obama reformer.
As Noemie Emery points out, it didn’t have to be this way. She explains that Obama could have lived up to his billing as a transformative leader if, on ObamaCare, for example, he had “built the bill out from the center, in a way that held on to the unhappy left, appealed to the center, and became a wedge issue that split Republicans.” Obama, in contrast to the GOP governors who are drawing applause from those on both ends of the political spectrum, has undermined his own popularity, his party’s electoral prospects, and his own agenda. (“Since Obama became president, everything that he wants has become more unpopular: more intrusive and much bigger government, more taxing and spending, more state control.”)
In sum, Obama has opened the way for any number of reformist, grown-up Republicans to present voters with a choice in 2012 and an alternate vision to the liberal statism against which voters have already rebelled.