That comes in contrast to an increasingly rosy economic picture nationally, with a strong December jobs report that capped off the best year in terms of economic growth for the nation since 1999. Unemployment, at 5.8 percent, was below predictions, and job growth has continued for month after month.
Three of the most prominent potential 2016 contenders — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — could face the most scrutiny, and have the toughest time explaining, their economic records for 2016.
It’s a troubling prospect for the party as it prepares to offer Republicans as the “party of solutions” in contrast to the Democrats, which it says has offered ineffective policies that contributed to a slow recovery and increasing inequality in the nation.
Charlie Black, who chaired Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential run, said that “the biggest problem the Democrats will have in the next election is that the economy is bad.”
“It’s really lack of jobs and lack of economic progress that’s the biggest issue,” he said.
But reality of late hasn’t borne that argument out. And he admitted that some governors may have some explaining to do.
But there’s a growing chorus of voices within the GOP calling for a more moderate economic vision going forward. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has expressed an openness to a new gas tax, while Gov. John Kasich has floated a tax on oil and gas companies to pay for an income tax cut.
It’s that tension — between the moderate economic visions of purple-state governors and those of their red-state brothers — that could cause further complications for the GOP in a presidential primary fight, where they’ll have to debate the benefits of both approaches on a national stage.
Stan Veuger, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said in an interview that “Democrats have some totally reasonable points” on the economy.
“It’s not the case that if you cut tax rates, revenue is going to go up immediately,” he noted, calling such a suggestion “ludicrous.”
He suggested the best solution for Republican governors was to take the middle road — and perhaps use Brownback as a cautionary tale.
A Republican governor with a struggling state economy could say, “I’m a solid conservative governor with an eye to the deficit and the debt, but I’m not going to take crazy stances in any direction,” Veuger proposed.