It is exactly three days past Election Day 2013 as I begin writing this and by the looks of it here on Redstate and elsewhere, Chris Christie is the apparent front runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. It amuses me to read some of the more extreme rhetoric here and elsewhere against Christie by many who simply read what they see in the press, form an opinion, and then trash the man. In effect, while they may be under the impression they are “saving the party from another debacle” by opposing Christie, they are actually doing the work of liberals and Democrats in trashing him. Ironically, this is one of the criticisms leveled against Christie.
All the recent talk that “he’s not conservative enough,” “he’s a RINO,” “he is Romney all over again,” ad nauseum plays nicely into the hands of liberal commentators. Read any liberal website and their view of and rhetoric against of Christie is just a vehemently negative as that coming from certain corners of conservative websites, including this one. Many comments such as, “I would never vote for him” are silly. Assuming Christie is the nominee, who are you going to vote for? Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden? Are you going to write in your favorite conservative du jour? Or are you just going to sit it out and let a Democrat win? While it may be true that the best chance for staunch conservatives to thwart a Christie nomination would be during the primaries, it is equally true that Republicans perform much better in presidential electoral politics the earlier they coalesce around a candidate. The longer the nomination process plays out, the lower the chances of a GOP victory come that November.
Where the criticism most hurts is should Christie in his second term as New Jersey’s Governor tack more to the right, it will be played up as pandering to the GOP base in order to secure the nomination whereas the real reason may be true conservative bona fides. We have not even allowed the man to begin his second term before the criticisms from the Right began. Fact: Christie governs a blue state with a Democratic legislature. At the very least, can we please see how he governs in a second term before criticizing? More importantly, can we please see what he accomplishes?
Deny reality as one must, but the simple fact is that in order to win, a nominee needs to win over independents and peel off a few votes from the opposition’s party. A staunch conservative like Ted Cruz may appeal to the staunch conservative, but does anyone really believe he will win the votes of independent voters in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania? Less and less people in the voting population identify with a political party and now list themselves as “independent.” In fact, this is a more important group than trying to win the Hispanic, the female, or the black vote.
Now, because Christie did well across all demographics in New Jersey and even among Democrats does not mean he will do the same nationally in a run for President. So many things can happen between point A and point B. But, there is one certainty with Christie: there will not be a debilitating gaffe. There will be no “Todd Akin moment.” We will not hear about dabbling in witchcraft in his past, or his views on masturbation a la Christine O’Donnell- perhaps the greatest example of the goofiest conservative pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in recent history. The more conservative elements got their wish in that they did not get Mike Castle in 2010; instead they got Chris Coons.
I fully understand the “worries” of the more conservative elements in the GOP. The last two nominees were less than stellar and could be considered “RINOs,” or “establishment candidates.” The financial crisis did in McCain’s chances in 2008 and Romney’s “47%” statement did him in. Romney succumbed to the Democratic/liberal portrayal of him; Romney allowed them to define him and he never recovered. One of the biggest criticisms I have heard against Christie is that he is a bully, or that he is gruff. Does anyone seriously believe Christie will allow Democratic and liberal operatives to define him in a presidential campaign? If the other criticisms are correct, Christie will eat them alive…literally.
Also, there are apparently many experts on New Jersey who do not live in New Jersey. This is a strong Democratic state. Any concession by Democrats no matter how small it is could be considered a victory by a Republican Governor. And what is one of the biggest complaints against Christie? What leads many to question his conservative credentials? There are several that I have come across, but the one that sticks in the craw of most is his “embrace of Obama” after Hurricane Sandy. To this writer, I am ind of confused as to what the proper conservative response and protocol is when any president visits one’s state in the wake of a major natural disaster. Avoidance? Stand away from Obama when the pictures were taken?
Some other criticisms are based on his perceived social issue stances. Christie is pro-life, but realistic. A Texas-type abortion law in New Jersey would probably never even make it out of a legislative committee, so for Christie to beat the pro-life drum is wasted political capital. With regards to gay marriage, he stands opposed as evidenced by his veto of a gay marriage law. He then suggested that the voters of New Jersey should be given the chance to veto his veto. But, there was absolutely no movement in Trenton to get gay marriage on the ballot this year or even next year. Thus, the practical effect was that Christie staved off the inevitable in New Jersey for over a year and it became a reality only because of the New Jersey supreme court. He could have appealed that decision and likely would have lost and cost the state money for what? To prove a point to the Republican conservative “base?”
Another area of contention between conservatives and Christie is the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare in New Jersey. Here is a newsflash: Medicaid eligibility in New Jersey was already lenient before Christie “expanded” it. Regardless, if this is the issue that grates most on the nerves of conservatives, then where is the ire against the likes of Brian Sandoval in Nevada, Jan Brewer in Arizona, Jack Darymple in North Dakota, and John Kasich in Ohio. A governor has to do what is best for their state first and foremost. Generally, Medicaid is a drag on New Jersey’s finances. Christie would be negligent in his duties if, after looking at all the factors and weighing the economic pros and cons and deciding the pros outweigh the cons, he refused expansion. It would have been great if 50 state governors stood up and defied Obamacare, but that did not happen.
Some have been upset with Christie over his views on gun control. But, can anyone name a single law passed in New Jersey in the past four years strengthening gun control laws in the state? In fact, he vetoed a ban on a certain firearm. The same goes for the most recent controversy to get the goat of conservatives- in state tuition for children of illegal immigrants. In actuality, this view would be in line with the actions of conservative stalwarts like Rick Perry in Texas with one single, important exception: it has not been approved in New Jersey yet. The criticisms against Christie are based on a single statement made during a campaign. Christie pulled out of a regional climate change compact while still touting green energy. What he is “touting” is bringing green energy jobs to New Jersey if there is to be this industry. Wind turbines and solar panels pre-date Obama; the green energy industry is nothing new.. It would make perfect sense for GE to manufacture wind turbines in New Jersey rather than China if business conditions were right. Should GE make an announcement tomorrow saying they are building a wind turbine plant in the US, you can rest assured governors from every state- red and blue- would be competing for that factory.
While many conservatives are looking to the recent past with the presidential losses, recent history and the 2014 primary and general election campaigns may be more indicative of the electability of 2016’s GOP nominee. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but Tea Party-affiliated candidates in 2013 are zero for two in this electoral cycle. Ken Cuccinelli lost his race in Virginia and Dean Young lost the Republican primary runoff in Alabama’s First Congressional district which is tantamount to losing the general election. In fact, looking at the past, Tea Party candidates have not really fared that well come Election Day. There have been some high profile victories, but in terms of raw numbers, the story is much different. Simply, they have greater success in primaries, not general elections.
Christie was exactly right when he stated that Republicans seem hell-bent on winning arguments rather than winning elections. If that is the goal and something to aspire to, then we may as well all be members of the Heritage Foundation rather than Republicans. There is nothing inherently wrong with “the argument” if (1) you win the election and (2) the argument is equally felt by most. As far as taking on the correct argument before the election, one’s view on tangential issues of interest only to slivers of the electorate are not the correct arguments. Thus, if the issue is jobs, the economy, tax reform, an overbearing regulatory state, and Obamacare, one does stick one’s foot in one’s mouth trying to prove one’s conservative credentials by talking about contraception, abortion and rape.
There is one important facet of this entire conversation and that is the built-in advantage enjoyed by Democrats on the electoral map. First, let’s dispose of this belief that if Christie is the nominee, Republicans will lose the electoral votes in the South. One South Carolina conservative political analyst had this to say about Christie: “I think he is DOA in South Carolina…the perception is he is just too moderate for the average. every day South Carolina voter.” Very well and fine, but should the average, every day South Carolina voter have a disproportionate say in the party’s nominee by virtue of their position on the primary calendar? Views like these are indicative of the need for primary election reform, not dismissing Christie. The electoral votes in the South are not going to a Democrat any time soon except perhaps in Florida and Virginia. But, conversely since the GOP can dismiss the Northeast (except perhaps New Hampshire), Republicans are left with the upper Midwest to look for electoral votes. So, who plays better in the likes of Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and maybe Pennsylvania? Obviously, Christie would clearly widen and open that electoral map more than a Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or an Allen West.
We have seen this before like a bad movie. Marco Rubio was the talk of conservatives until he advanced immigration reform. Rand Paul became the next big thing until his libertarian foreign policy turned many off. Ben Carson is a great commentator who can push the Obamacare angle very well, but little else. Sure, there are others out there that may be more acceptable to the more conservative elements in the GOP (Paul Ryan, Scott Walker and others), but they likely will offend someone somewhere along the line and come under similar attack.
And there lies the problem. There is no prototypical, archetypal conservative super man or woman that will satisfy everyone all the time. What is the point of fighting the good principled, dogmatic fight only to lose? If that is the case, then Ron Paul should have been the Republican nominee long ago. It can certainly be done locally or even on a statewide basis, but not nationally. If conservatives are serious about winning the presidential election in 2016, they need to stop acting like Democrats as far as infighting and open criticism of fellow Republicans. Conservatives have problems with Chris Christie, but liberals and Democrats have even bigger problems with him and that may be the bottom line.
NOTE: Should anyone comment, please avoid the silly allusions to Christie’s weight. A man’s pant size does not disqualify someone for office.