In terms of sheer numbers, Republicans did the worst in governorships among all the electoral positions up for grabs this year. Republicans did make gains, although modest, in the House. In the Senate, Republicans will either have a net gain of zero or be down one seat, depending on how the Georgia runoff goes in December. But Republicans lost a net of two gubernatorial seats. While former President Donald Trump, the Republican National Committee, Senate Republicans, and House Republicans have faced a lot of scrutiny for their poor showing, the Republican Governors Association has avoided this scrutiny. The lack of humility at the Republican Governors Association’s latest meeting presents an ominous sign on whether Republicans will learn from their mistakes in 2022.
The Republican Governors Association displayed a noted lack of self-reflection when, after the media called the Nevada gubernatorial race for Republican nominee Joe Lombardo, its communications director tweeted, “Incumbents knocked off by @GOPGovs: 1 Incumbents knocked off by @DemGovs: 0.” While the tweet was technically true, Democrats still won a net two governorships and dominated swing states. And the overall results paled in comparison to Republican midterm results in 2010 and 2014.
To be fair, this might have just been classic communications political spin. But the politicians running the Republican Governors Association’s conference did not have a stellar record on important issues. The outgoing chair, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, saw major losses in his state. So did executive committee members Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. None of them reflected on what they could have done differently in their state. Instead, they just blamed Trump.
The politicians running the Republican Governors Association’s conference did not have a stellar record on important issues.
The executive committee also featured Eric Holcomb of Indiana. Ducey and Holcombe have opposed Republican state legislature efforts in their states to take on culture issues that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin have championed. Holcomb vetoed a bill to ban biological males from participating in female sports. Ducey vetoed a bill that would have banned controversial sexual theories from Arizona’s curriculum.
Holcomb, Hogan, and Baker all pushed harmful COVID-19 mask policies and vaccine mandates. Once again, there was no reflection on these policies in the meeting. Many Republican candidates in the midterms made the case that COVID-19 overreach unnecessarily harmed working Americans’ lives. These three governors played a role in this harm.
There were a few discussions on what Republicans could do better. Predictably, many attacked Trump. When former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie criticized Trump, he received a standing ovation. It is puzzling why Christie is still part of Republican leadership given the fact that he had an approval rating as low as 15 percent in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. It is also odd that he is an authority on getting beyond Trump when he played an instrumental role in getting Trump the nomination in 2016.
While Trump certainly bears blame for the 2022 midterm results, he is not the sole cause, and bashing him in Republican Establishment circles is the path of least resistance.
During the meeting, Hogan, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson all talked up their prospects as presidential candidates. These three have no chance at winning the nomination, but they could divide the vote and take away from viable Republican alternatives to Trump, such as DeSantis.
There were a few moments of lucidity. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem suggested that Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel should step aside. The RNC seemed inclined to reelect McDaniel, so Noem helped push back against the Establishment. DeSantis also received a standing ovation. DeSantis has taken bold leadership that Ducey, Holcomb, Hogan, Baker, and Christie all ran away from.
It remains to be seen whether the Republican Governors Association has learned from its mistakes. The association made Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds the new chair. Reynolds was vice chair of the Republican Governors Association during this disastrous year, so that is not encouraging. But Reynolds has been a statewide officeholder in Iowa for over 10 years. During this time, Iowa has become a red state. This year, Reynolds won in a landslide, and Republicans took over all U.S. House seats and statewide offices. Reynolds also took a hardline stance on the same issues as DeSantis. Fortunately, Hogan, Ducey, and Baker will no longer be in leadership.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Based on the 2022 gubernatorial results and the attitude last week at its conference, the Republican Governors Association is in the running for being the weakest link. Hopefully leaders like Reynolds, Youngkin, and DeSantis can strengthen the leadership of GOP governors.
Todd Carney is a lawyer and a writer on election issues. He earned his juris doctorate from Harvard Law School.