In my columns on PolitickerNJ.com, I have made no secret of my admiration for Chris Christie. His record as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey was outstanding in all respects, including his conviction rate, his courage in pursuing corrupt officials of both political parties, and his absolutely unimpeachable ethics, despite all efforts by detractors and political adversaries to distort his record. He is a person of encyclopedic intellect, with the judgment skills necessary to be a wise decision maker, one of the two most important skills a governor must possess, the other being leadership quality, which Christie has in great abundance.
Yet this combination of judgment and leadership, as positive as it is, does not constitute the most compelling case for Christie's candidacy for the New Jersey Republican gubernatorial nomination. Rather, it comes down to which candidate in this primary has the ability to attract enough support in the African-American and Hispanic communities, as well as in traditional Republican suburban areas, to defeat Jon Corzine in November. Chris Christie is fully capable of garnering the percentage of the vote of each of these constituencies necessary for a Republican to win the gubernatorial race. Steve Lonegan is absolutely hopeless in this regard.
This first decade of the twenty-first century thus far has been the worst decade in the history of the New Jersey Republican Party. Since the GOP first became a national party in the Presidential election of 1856, it has won at least one statewide election (Presidential, gubernatorial, or U.S. Senate) in every decade – up until this one. If the New Jersey GOP fails to win the 2009 gubernatorial race against an incumbent governor, Jon Corzine, whose unpopularity seems to grow by leaps and bounds every day, the party will have experienced its first winless decade at the statewide level in its history.
The key decision for the Republican voter in this gubernatorial primary is not one of which candidate is the true conservative. Both candidates are conservative, albeit of different types: Christie is a Reagan/Kemp "Opportunity Society" conservative, while Lonegan is a paleo-conservative. The key question for the voter in this primary, however, is the test the late William F. Buckley selected for his endorsements, namely, which candidate is the most viable conservative.
A major test for viability in this year's gubernatorial race is the ability of the Republican gubernatorial nominee to attract African-American and Hispanic votes. As I stated in my article, "How Blue is New Jersey ?" in the March 23, 2009 edition of PolitickerNJ.com, if New Jersey Republicans do not improve their vote totals from African-American and Hispanic voters, the state will remain in its current solid Democrat blue status.
In appealing to voters in these two constituencies, the Republican gubernatorial nominee should not vary from the core conservative party message of free enterprise, reduced regulation, low taxes, school vouchers, and charter schools. The key is for the nominee to communicate to African-American and Hispanic voters the message that the Republican program and philosophy will do far more to provide them opportunity than the failed Democrat big government approach.
Chris Christie can be most effective in this regard. No Republicans had more success than Tom Kean and Jack Kemp in communicating the Republican message to minority voters. It is most significant that both Kean and Bret Schundler, who was supported for Governor by Jack Kemp in the 2001 Republican gubernatorial primary, have endorsed Christie. There are no negatives whatsoever in his record as a Morris County freeholder and U.S. Attorney regarding issues of minority rights and fair treatment.
By contrast, Steve Lonegan's record on minority issues is marred by two incidents of rank insensitivity on his part towards African-Americans and Hispanics that make him anathema to these communities.
The first incident involved Lonegan going to Newark on Martin Luther King Day to state his opposition to an affirmative-action program, making his announcement on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. One can oppose affirmative action on grounds of ideology and principle without being a bigot. Lonegan’s action, however, taken on a day of solemnity for both black and white Americans, was both insultingly inappropriate and offensive. Indeed, this was insensitivity in the highest degree.
The other action involved Lonegan’s call for a boycott of McDonald’s after the fast-food chain put up a Spanish language billboard in his home town of Bogota, while he was the town’s mayor. What is remarkable here is that Lonegan’s boycott call was actually anti-conservative.
One can favor "English only" statutes requiring that all government business be conducted in English without being a bigot. One can oppose bilingual education without being a bigot on the basis that immigrant children should be forced to learn English by immersion in the public schools in order to succeed in American society.
It is a fundamental principle of free market conservatism, however, that an entrepreneur has a right to advertise to customers in whatever language and mode he or she deems to be most effective, as long as the words and mode are not obscene. Lonegan’s action in the Bogota McDonald'scase, taken while he was mayor of a municipality with one of the fastest growing Hispanic populations in New Jersey, was again inappropriate, offensive, and extremely insensitive.
If Steve Lonegan wins the primary (which I believe is highly unlikely), he will doubtless receive less than five percent of the vote in the general election in the African-American and Hispanic communities. No Republican who fares so poorly in these two constituencies has a hope of viability in the gubernatorial election against Jon Corzine.
Utilizing the William F. Buckley test described earlier in this article, there is only one viable conservative Republican candidate in the 2009 gubernatorial primary. That candidate is Chris Christie.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.