By Jonathan Chait
Don’t measure the drapes just yet.
Submitted by Michael
The emergence of Chris Christie as one of America’s most popular national figures comes as a godsend to the Republican Party. Having angrily turned down every opportunity to compromise with an electorate that spurned them a year ago, they now see the enticing chance, in the form of Christie’s all-but-declared presidential candidacy, to right their course without veering left. “The road to Republican political redemption may well run through Trenton, N.J,” says Politico’s Ben White. Savvy operative Ralph Reed, whose ties run from the Grover Norquists of the party to its Christian wing, gave the governor his blessing, seemingly paving the way for Christie to clear the party’s ever-more-stringent ideological purity tests. Christie used his acceptance speech to establish the themes for this run, repeatedly highlighting his support from Democratic constituencies and his record of cutting taxes and spending.
There is only one flaw with the plan: Shepherding Christie through a competitive Republican primary will be vastly more difficult than anybody seems to be figuring at the moment. Four basic, interrelated problems stand between Christie and the 2016 nomination:
1. His ideological deviations are not fake. They’re real. Christie has openly endorsed gun control, called for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and conceded the legitimacy of climate science (“But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts.”)
The largest, and least appreciated, of Christie’s betrayals of party doctrine is his decision to participate in the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. Some other Republican governors have made the same decision, but they have all faced unrelenting and bitter opposition from legislators of their party and conservative activists. Unyielding hatred to every aspect of Obamacare, regardless of its practical impact, has become the main doctrinal tenet of conservative thought. That alone could potentially disqualify him.
2. Christie’s popularity is somewhat fluky. Christie has some real political talent. But he has benefitted from his juxtaposition against a corrupt, divided, ineffectual state Democratic Party that consistently allowed him to claim the good government high ground. Even so, Christie’s approval ratings hovered in the low-to-mid-fifties, until he achieved beatification through Hurricane Sandy.
Christie benefitted in two ways from Sandy. One was through the kind of active, sleeves-rolled-up response to disaster that can lend politicians stratospheric approval (like the sort Rudy Giuliani won after 9/11, and sought, unsuccessfully, to leverage into higher office.) Second, and more significantly, Christie defined himself as above partisanship by metaphorically and literally embracing President Obama.
In a bitterly partisan era, Christie’s cooperation and apparently warm personal relations with Obama made him a uniquely appealing figure. In particular, in is the key to his lofty standing in the African-American community: In pointed contrast to the ceaseless rage and contempt displayed by his party, Christie treated the nation’s first black president with open respect and affinity.
Of course, having safely won reelection, Christie can undertake a campaign of vilification against Obama. He’ll have to – the taint of collaboration with the hated Obama, if not scrubbed away, would prove as fatal as Joe Lieberman’s kiss proved to his plane crash of a presidential campaign in 2004.