- - Sunday, February 7, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Iowa caucuses may have only muddied the waters in the presidential race, but they almost definitively decided one thing: the next president will not be a governor. That’s an amazing revelation because just one year ago all the smart money was betting that the next president would be a Republican governor.

And why not? The governors were supposed to be the GOP’s talent pool.

If the nominee wasn’t going to be Jeb Bush, the former two term Florida CEO with a sterling job performance, voters would surely look to Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, the conservative warrior for financial sanity and labor reform, or the policy wizard Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

If none of these candidates panned out, a second tier of popular and talented governors like Ohio’s John Kasich, Texan Rick Perry, and New Jersey’s Chris Christie stood in the ready position — as did former Arkansas gov. Mike Huckabee. Mr. Perry had an amazing story to tell: from 2007-13, while he was governor, the Lone Star State created more jobs than all the other 49 states. He was the only Republican or Democratic candidate who served in the military. What was not to like?

But like the blizzard snow in Washington, Mr. Perry and the rest of the state CEOs have melted away. Scott Walker — poof, gone. Mr. Jindal — bye bye. Mike Huckabee, adios amigos.

The three remaining wannabes, Mr. Bush, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Christie collected about as many votes combined in Iowa as surgeon Ben Carson — who finished in 4th place. They were nonentities even though Mr. Bush spent millions in the state. These three are the walking dead of the race and are all pinning their hopes on a win, place or show performance in New Hampshire. Only Mr. Kasich of Ohio appears to have a shot.

What happened? In a year when politicians are despised, their experience became a liability. Even their successes were dismissed. The more John Kasich boasted of how he balanced budgets in the 1990s and for five years as governor — extraordinarily impressive feats — the more conservatives concluded: he’s been around too long.

I don’t have a horse in this race (though I helped Sen. Rand Paul with his tax and economic program). But the demise of the governors should be deeply disappointing to conservatives, because these executives have actually walked the walk. They have cut taxes. They have balanced budgets. They have taken on unions and reformed welfare. When and why did conservatives stop believing that actions speak louder than words — i.e., the bluster on the Senate floor or a reality TV show? Many of the governors won election and policy victories in blue or purple states — states like Florida and Ohio that the GOP must win in November.

Let’s be honest: Jeb Bush was easily the most qualified for the Oval Office having masterfully run the fourth largest state with more people than most nations. When voters whine that he isn’t conservative enough, it always makes me wince. Wait. A governor who cut taxes five times, who instituted the most advanced school choice program in the country, who oversaw an enormous growth spurt in Florida, a fearless free trader, and someone who fought for the right to life unfailingly isn’t reliably conservative?

Granted, these governors ran lousy campaigns and sounded tone deaf to voter rage. Jeb was his own worst enemy because he obsessed with raising $100 million, while failing to reintroduce himself to voters and assure them that we weren’t going to get a fourth Bush term.

Mr. Kasich seemed to go out of his way to irritate conservatives by grabbing the carrot of Medicaid dollars from Obamacare and rationalizing the money grab by saying Jesus made me do it. Mr. Jindal was too wonkish. Mr. Walker came across as not ready for prime time. Mr. Huckabee was too preachy. Mr. Perry never had a chance because he was a governor from Texas — and we just did that.

Still, governing effectively isn’t a sin, it’s a skill. The art of politics is figuring out when to reach across the aisle, get 70 percent of what you want, and find ways to bring the other team along. Ronald Reagan was a steadfast conservative with unshakable convictions, but he made deals — and mostly good ones for the country and the cause of freedom. When he got the top tax rate down to 28 percent, he won 97-3 in the Senate and even persuaded the likes of Ted Kennedy to vote for it. The ultimate victory is getting the other side to vote with you.

One reason compromise has become a dirty word is because Republicans in Washington are so bad at it. I was as livid as any tea partyer over the deal Republicans struck on the spendthrift budget last year. This wasn’t a negotiation, it was an unconditional surrender. In Washington the GOP hasn’t learned “the Art of the Deal,” as Mr. Trump puts it.

I have mostly admiration for the three men left standing: Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz, and Mr. Rubio. But it’s slightly disconcerting that none have ever governed. Warning: Mr. Obama tried to learn on the job and it was a giant fiasco from day one. One of these three last survivors is likely to be the next president. Once he wins the nomination, here’s hoping that he taps a governor as the veep. There are plenty of stars to choose from in the state capitals. The talent pool runs deep.

Stephen Moore is an economic consultant with Freedom Works and a Fox News contributor.

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