We empirically characterize the performance of discriminative and generative LSTM models for text classification. We find that although RNN-based generative models are more powerful than their bag-of-words ancestors (e.g. they account for conditional dependencies across words in a document), they have higher asymptotic error rates than discriminatively trained RNN models. However we also find that generative models approach their asymptotic error rate more rapidly than their discriminative counterparts - the same pattern that Ng & Jordan (2001) proved holds for linear classification models that make more naive conditional independence assumptions. Building on this finding, we hypothesize that RNN-based generative classification models will be more robust to shifts in the data distribution. This hypothesis is confirmed in a series of experiments in zero-shot and continual learning settings that show that generative models substantially outperform discriminative models.