You don’t have to study federal budget data closely to know that the only way to reduce the huge budget deficits over the next 10 years, while avoiding tax increases, is to cut the growth rate of spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that federal spending in 2023 will come in at a whopping 24.2 percent of GDP, up from an average of 21.0 percent between 1993 and 2022. So a good way to judge various Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination, if they were governors, is to examine their record on state government spending.

Doing so leads to two interesting conclusions. First, there are important differences among the Republicans who were or are governors. Second, although the old saying is that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats, on spending there sometimes are billions of dollars of difference. In fact, all the Republican governors or former governors performed better than the Democratic governors.

These are the opening two paragraphs of David R. Henderson, “How to Judge Governors Running for President,” Institute for Policy Innovation, TaxBytes, September 27, 2023.

The ranking, measured by average annual growth in state government spending and average annual per capita growth in government spending is, from best to worst:

Mike Pence

Asa Hutchinson

Doug Burghum

Chris Christie

Ron DeSantis

Nikki Haley

Gretchen Whitmer

Gavin Newsom

The data are from my fellow Canuck Chris Edwards, “Governors Running for President,” Cato at Liberty, July 20, 2023.

One thing to note that I didn’t note because of my word constraint: the top 4 are fairly tightly clustered. DeSantis and Haley are outliers.

One positive surprise is Chris Christie. He was governor in a “blue” state and probably had to fight a legislature more than did the 3 governors above him. The biggest negative surprise, to me, at least, was Ron DeSantis. He had a legislature that should have been easy to work with on spending.

UPDATE: See the data by Andrew_FL below. It adds very important context that certainly affected my thinking about the governors.