4.5 million votes - that's the margin by which Barack Obama defeated a lackluster Mitt Romney in 2012. In their frantic search for somebody or something to blame, a number of people have decided that the defiantly pragmatic Governor Chris Christie may have been the buoy that floated Obama to the top on the wake of Hurricane Sandy's destruction, all because he invited the President to tour the disaster zone (as is customary for a Governor) and is now seeking federal reimbursement for the damage caused by Sandy (as it was in the far more devastating Hurricane Katrina).
If you think that one Governor is capable of such massive political sway, no matter how bombastic he could be, that he could actually wrench 2.25 million votes (or whatever necessary equivalent there might have been in battleground states), then the absolute last thing to do is crucify the man and send him out on an ice floe. It should be stunningly obvious to anyone with an inkling of sense that this man did not hand Obama the election, and to suggest that he even played anything nearing a part in doing so is foolish and extremely tunnel-visioned.
A Governor of a state, much like the CEO of a company, is beholden to their primary stakeholders, which, in this case, are the citizens of the State of New Jersey. Just like a CEO does whatever is necessary to ensure the survival and success of their company, Governor Christie's primary responsibility is to ensure the survival and success of his state. In the most pragmatic and basic senses, this means doing whatever is necessary to fulfill your duties, including what may not be politically prudent at any given time. Yet, when seemingly disadvantageous to the national party, doing your job suddenly becomes the equivalent of a gaffe, prompting comparisons to Charlie Crist, Arlen Specter, Lincoln Chafee, and other "turncoat" Republicans who would almost certainly fall under the moniker of "opportunist" rather than pragmatist.
I can understand a little vitriol when people's political passions are most inflamed, right on the cusp of a major election that will undoubtedly decide much of America's economic future. Sadly, it's easy to try to find someone or something to blame when you feel like you're trying to come from behind, and there's little question, particularly in retrospect, that the Republican party was very much attempting an underdog victory over even a relatively unpopular President. Yet here we are, a month later, still seeing smirk-inducing headlines from Matt Drudge such as "Obama and Christie meet in WH..." or "Christie requests 100% reimbursement for Sandy..." and comment sections littered with back-stabbing fat man jokes and other filth.
Can we all just accept the fact that Chris Christie is in no way responsible for the outcome of the 2012 election? Maybe it's time that the Republican party took a page (or many pages) out of the Christie playbook and considered the political genius of his handling of Sandy. Consider the following:
1. Christie is not a contortionist, and is not going to try to appease every coalition that the Republican party has to offer to win an election. Read: Chris Christie has a set of principles, and he's going to stick to them no matter what you have to say about it. As he eloquently and concisely put it in his RNC speech, "real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls." Isn't this exactly the kind of leader that the Republican party has been begging for? He may not be everything every Conservative has ever hoped for in his policies, but is his leadership ability not reflective of a level of ingenuity that we are failing to see from the vast majority of any suitable 2016 candidates?
It's time we stop thinking about how to unify the Republican party - the Democrats presume unity every single time they put a candidate on the ballot. We will win elections not by creating "Frankencandidates" who borrow bits and pieces of platform material from all Conservative factions, but rather by nominating steadfast, unwavering commanders like Chris Christie who will sell you exactly the product you saw in the window - nothing less. A man willing to completely upset the political establishment by doing his job even when it is either inconvenient or inopportune constitutes what I believe to be a true leader - one who will change the polls, not simply follow them.
2. As he again suggested at the RNC, Conservatives may not love Christie, but if the time comes to put someone in the driver's seat of America, they will most certainly respect him - and so will a significant number of voters from otherwise untouchable blocs and states. Yes, Mitt Romney was also a blue state Republican, and people were hoping "moderate Mitt" might have a similar effect, but not even his own base was in love with him. Republicans had to cycle through Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and even political skeletons like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum before they could finally resign themselves to begrudgingly select Mitt Romney. However, Romney was anything but moderate in his 2016 run, and his campaign ultimately ended up looking more like McCain '08 and Bush '04 than anything that might appeal to "reach" states. In a 2016 primary, I see no such squabble occurring, and we all know that it will take a true unifier with a fresh, pragmatic approach to the Presidency to re-open this electoral map to the Republican party. The map isn't all of the sudden going to take a hard right and start demanding Puritanical social policy again.
3. He will call a spade a spade. Polarizing, partisan politics are paving the way for a deeply divided electorate for many, many years to come. Some of the hard Right may be perfectly okay with that, but I'm not, and you shouldn't be either. Call it hyperbole, call it brown-nosing, call it whatever you will - Christie called Obama's handling of the Sandy disaster "outstanding". Why? Because it was. For every screw up Obama has made since his first step into the Oval Office, Sandy was not one of them, and a significant portion of this electorate (including myself) is absolutely sick of this notion that we cannot praise members of the opposite party for their successes due to political risk from within their own party! Just like a great professor doesn't alienate the students with whom he disagrees, a great political leader doesn't let party politics get in the way of acknowledging success. Acts like this one are the first step toward electoral maps that look more like 1980 or 1984 rather than the utter absurdity of the eight-state campaign trail.
One particular comment on a Breitbart article about Christie's soaring approval rating struck me -
"Christie cannot win a GOP Presidential Primary...and as much "love" as this RINO is getting now, he'll find out, like ANY Republican, he will be SKEWERED by the mainstream media if he dares challenge for national office."
I hope, for the sake of the Republican party, that this poster's sentiments do not reflect those of the party as a whole, or else it may find itself "skewering" itself by nominating perennial losers, blowhards, and waverers for the sake of "ideological purity", whatever that means in the context of a party whose coalitions are held together by chewing gum and chicken wire. This party needs to take a leap of faith that even if some of the staunchest and loudest ignoramuses of the Republican party stay home in 2016, it's better to nominate someone everyone respects rather than someone that only "we" love.