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Republican governors' new target: Washington Republicans

Published: Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

In the aftermath of the government shutdown, it’s clear many of the nation’s Republican governors are disgusted by the performance of GOP lawmakers in Congress.

But they don’t say it in so many words. Instead, recently meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., at their annual conference, they expressed growing weariness with “Washington, D.C.” and declared that if anything good is to happen in politics, it will be done by Republican governors, and not politicians in the nation’s capital.

The new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, joined in, noting an “incredible contrast between what you see being discussed here (at the governors meeting) ... as opposed to what’s going on in Washington, D.C.”

The governors were quick to note that of course they also mean Democrats when they slam Washington. But there’s no doubt the steady barrage of abuse directed at the capital quite specifically includes the leaders of their own party.

“We’re criticizing everybody,” Christie said. “My feeling has always been that when a Republican deserves criticism, he or she gets it. When a Democrat deserves criticism, he or she gets it.”

It’s an easy and virtually risk-free attack, given that the target, Congress, has an approval rating in the single digits. But the governors really do view themselves as the only Republican success story going right now. The GOP controls 29 governorships, covering a majority of the American population. They’re hoping to make that majority bigger in gubernatorial contests in 2014.

But politics being politics, there are also eyes on 2016. All the Washington-bashing sends a clear message about the presidential race. Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rep. Paul Ryan are all fine fellows, but the governors want to see a chief executive become the GOP nominee for the White House.

Just about the only governors who demur on the question of whether a governor should be the Republican nominee are the governors who actually want to be the Republican nominee. Christie declined to answer, arguing that given the work ahead in 2014, Republicans “start thinking about 2016 at our own peril.”

Republicans who can distance themselves from the unpopular Congress are taking every opportunity to do so. And those lawmakers who want to run for president could find very little support in the nation’s statehouses.

• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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