Governor Chris Christie emerged as America’s major winner of Election 2010. He is nationally both the avatar of center-right Republicanism and the major force for unity in the GOP. He won the admiration of not only moderate and center-right Republicans but also Tea Party Republicans as well, including their acknowledged Congressional leader, Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina).
I have never had a private conversation with Governor Chris Christie about his future goals or aspirations. He is, however, an individual who does not prevaricate or dissemble. Accordingly, judging from both his public statements and actions during his first year in office, there are three predictions I can safely make about him:
1. He will be reelected as Governor in 2013.
2. The Governor will not be a candidate for President or Vice President in 2012, although the Republican nominee for President will likely ask him to be his running mate. He will be the kingmaker, however, as his endorsement for the White House will be the most valued by the GOP Presidential primary candidates.
3. Christie will some day run for President. He will only run, however, in a year where he believes he has a good chance of being elected. That year will not come until 2016 – or some year thereafter. He is only 48 years old, and he has plenty of time.
I think the members of the Trenton punditry class completely misperceive Christie as having an agenda of seeking the GOP nomination for President in 2012. They then judge his every action as Governor in terms of how it furthers this non-existent national agenda.
Actually, I believe the reverse to be true. Christie does have a political agenda, but it is a New Jersey political agenda: the creation of a strong, center-right New Jersey Republican Party that will prevail in the 2011 state legislative races and serve as his base for his 2013 gubernatorial reelection effort. The members of the Trenton punditry class should be analyzing how Christie’s national political campaign efforts further his New Jersey objectives – and not vice versa.
Christie understands that 1) in order to build a strong center-right Republican Party in New Jersey, there must also be in existence a strong center-right national GOP; and 2) efforts to build a strong center-right New Jersey Republican Party will fail if the Tea Party is the face of the national GOP.
In his appearance on Meet the Press on November 7, 2010, Christie stated that he believes the Tea Party to be a net positive for the Republican Party. The Governor emphasized that he and the Tea Party share a common agenda of less spending, smaller government, lower regulation, and lower taxes. He also, however, stated that the defeat of Representative Mike Castle in Delaware for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination by Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell constituted a “missed opportunity” for the GOP.
Christie has never publicly engaged in any in-depth analysis of the Tea Party. In truth, the Tea Party is really a political “brand” utilized by local self-licensed franchisees, rather than a nationally organized movement directed from the top. The word “Tea” actually stands for “Taxed Enough Already”. Recently, there have been attempts by Washington-based “umbrella” groups to organize and supervise the various local Tea Party movements. As of now, however, there is no nationally recognized Tea Party leadership.
There have been outstanding Republicans of depth and character who have run for federal office under the Tea Party brand. Among them are the aforesaid Senator Jim DeMint, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), and Senator-elect Marco Rubio (R-Florida).
At the local level, however, Tea Party leaders have often displayed a nihilism that can only bode ill for the GOP. These leaders exhibit this nihilism by their constant slanders of moderate and even mainstream conservative Republicans as “RINOS” – an acronym for Republicans in Name Only. These Tea Party notables nihilistically assert that they would rather see the Republicans lose with an incompetent extremist right-wing candidate than win with an electable moderate.
At its best, the Tea Party is the embodiment of Andrew Jackson, encouraging more citizen involvement in the democratic process. At its worst, the Tea Party is the embodiment of Millard Fillmore, displaying not only nihilism but nativism and anti-intellectualism as well. Nowhere in the last election was this Tea Party nihilism more on display than in the U.S. Senate Republican primary in Delaware.
Christine O’Donnell was gave her any chance of winning in the general election.
Yet Delaware Tea Party leaders supported O’Donnell in the Republican primary against Representative Mike Castle on the grounds that he was a moderate who supported Obama’s cap-and-trade legislation. Castle would have been, however, a sure winner in the general election. If he and three other Republicans had won U.S. Senate seats from Democrat incumbents, it would have resulted in Republican control of the U.S. Senate and the resultant appointment of Republicans as Senate committee chairs. Almost all of these Republican appointees would have been conservatives.
Christie understood this, and that is why he campaigned for Mike Castle in the primary. He is the most conservative governor in modern New Jersey political history, and his views on major issues were decidedly different from those of Castle. Yet he understood that a Castle win would constitute a national opportunity for the Republican Party. By contrast, the Delaware Tea Party leaders were ignoring the Talmudic principle of “if you grab too much, you get nothing.” Their candidate, O’Donnell defeated Castle for the Republican nomination but lost the general election in a sixteen point landslide to Democrat Chris Coons.
In Delaware, Christie demonstrated a hallmark principle of his center-right political philosophy: a willingness to work with moderates as well as Tea Party candidates (e.g. Anna Little in New Jersey). There is no question as to his conservatism: Christie proved in 2009 that a pro-life candidate in New Jersey could be elected Governor, despite all the conventional political wisdom to the contrary. He won the admiration of conservatives nationally by his boldness in 1) refusing to reappoint Justice John Wallace to the Supreme Court; and 2) confronting the leadership of the teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) in his efforts to reform education and control its costs. Unlike his Republican predecessors as governor, Christie is no moderate.
Yet in Christie’s center-right New Jersey Republican Party, while his conservatism sets the ideological agenda, moderates and Tea Party adherents certainly are welcome. Coalition politics is the key methodology to the success of any center-right Republican Party. Christie has not established this political agenda to promote a national run for the Presidency; he has done so to enable the GOP to gain majorities in the state Senate and Assembly in 2011 and to secure his reelection in 2013.
If the Governor attains his goals in this political agenda and establishes a record as one of New Jersey’s most successful governors, as I believe he will, it will then be inevitable that Chris Christie will either in 2016 or at some point thereafter run for President. In his career, however, the Governor has always taken matters one step at a time.
As the most successful U.S. Attorney in New Jersey history, Chris Christie rejected the entreaties of New Jersey GOP leaders to run for Governor in 2005 because he still had goals to accomplish in the former office. As the nation’s major Republican star, the Governor is likewise rejecting pleas of GOP leaders throughout the nation to run for the White House in 2012. For Governor Chris Christie, his political agenda is not now national, but truly New Jersey First.
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. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.