The Corner

Elections

If the Republican Party Is Dying, Why Are GOP Governors So Popular?

Then-Republican candidate for Governor Ron DeSantis holds a rally in Orlando, Fla., November 5, 2018. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

A new St. Leo’s poll in Florida shows Governor Ron DeSantis sporting an approval rating of 68 percent (with a disapproval of 20 percent). What’s most impressive about these numbers is that in every demographic that matters, DeSantis is polling above 50 percent — with both sexes, Hispanic (67 percent approval) and black voters (63), and among both parties.

When it comes to governorships, Florida isn’t an outlier. The last time the Morning Consult poll tabulated a list of the most popular governors, the top 14 — and 18 of the top 20 — were Republicans. These Republicans govern in states that have highly diverse electorates, from Alabama to Vermont.

Which is weird, because this very week, progressives at the New York Times and the Atlantic were assuring us that the GOP was so reviled nationally — and its agenda so toxic to the average American — that the party has been compelled to hide from “democratic accountability.”

Naturally, Charlie Baker can’t support the same policies in Massachusetts that Mark Gordon can in Wyoming. And some of these governors have their agendas tempered by Democratic legislatures, while others do not. But, like DeSantis, all of them tend to govern with a conservative disposition, and most of them openly advocate a conservative agenda.

How many progressive governors do you see near the top of the list? Kate Brown of Oregon, perhaps the most progressive governor in the country, is also one of its least popular. Gavin Newsom, who’s pushed a slate of left-wing policies, owns an approval rating in heavily liberal California that’s on par with Donald Trump’s national numbers. “Rational, pragmatic, progressive” J. B. Pritzker’s polls are horrible. Andrew Cuomo’s numbers are brutal. The only Democrats in the top 20 are Steve Bullock and John Carney, two of the most moderate liberal governors in the country.

Nothing is static in politics, and there are an array of factors that drive a politician’s approval. (Here’s a deeper dive by John McCormack on why Republicans are succeeding.) But it’s a bit difficult to ignore the striking skew of this list.

It seems to me that voters have a far more personal, less ideological stake in their governors than they do in the politicians they send to Washington as proxies in broader philosophical battles. Congress, thankfully, does little real policy work. Governors are far more likely to be judged on nuts-and-bolts governance, stability, and competence. In this regard, it’s pretty clear that Republicans are figuring out ways to stay relevant and popular in lots of areas of the country. It’s also pretty clear that voters are able to compartmentalize their local and national votes. Pundits who treat Trump’s approval rating as the ultimate indicator of the GOP’s political fortunes are doing their readers a disservice.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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