Saturday, February 19, 2011
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 14 Comments
Even though Christie doesn't actually appear to be running, Ann Coulter is trying to draft him to run anyway. Christie's appeal is obvious. He's a tough talking Republican bent on reforming an out control liberal state apparatus. His videos have gone viral. His speeches get to the point. His image is that of a man who seems to know exactly what he wants to do and how to do it. And in a time of politicians who never say what they mean, it's natural that his approach goes over like free beer during Prohibition.
1. He's a Republican rock star at the helm of a state with a fiscal crisis waging a war against public sector unions. While he may not be a solid conservative on all three planks, he's dedicated to fiscal reform, popular and pulls no punches. But I'm not talking about Christie. I mean Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Quite a few Republicans have forgotten that back in 2003, Schwarzenegger looked a lot like Christie. And back when he was calling critics, "Girlie Men" and forcefully pushing reforms at the expense of the unions, he was a Republican rock star too. But when he lost his battle with the unions, all that was left was the Schwarzenegger of today. A liberal Republican governor who pushes Global Warming, illegal immigration and is hard to tell apart from any of his liberal colleagues.
Before getting too attached to Christie, conservatives should ask themselves, what besides his talk of fiscal reforms are they really enthusiastic about? If they can't name anything besides his confrontational style, then they may need to think twice.
2. Christie hasn't actually fixed New Jersey. Sure he's taken some steps in the right direction, but with the acclaim he was getting, you would think that he had accomplished substantive changes. The problem here is that many of Christie's biggest enthusiasts come from out of state. New Jersey isn't New York or California. Most people who don't live there have only a limited awareness of what is actually going on there. Christie's videos make for a great show,
He did win a very public battle with the unions. He stood up against more property tax hikes and he's taking on state worker pensions. All good things. And in a year or so, he may achieve substantive changes. But his budget increases taxes and increases state spending. Some of that may be unavoidable, but it's a more complex image than his video shouting matches with union members communicates.
The real Christie may be committed to reforms, but he's still a politician. His reforms are aimed at making the system viable, not at dramatically transforming it. It will take years to see whether Christie can go the distance like Giuliani, or fade away like Schwarzenegger. For now he's made a good beginning, but there's a long road ahead.
3. Christie isn't all that unique. Republican and Democratic governors all over America are fighting their own pitched battles with public sector unions. Across the river on the New York side, Governor Andrew Cuomo is sounding a lot like Christie these days. Even though he's a Democrat and even served as Clinton's HUD director.
There's no question that Christie blazed a trail. His aggressive clashes with unions made other politicians want to follow suit. His courtship by Obama is a sign of that popularity. But that raises the ancillary question, did Christie take on the unions because it was the right thing to do, or because it was the politically smart thing to do. The only way to really know is to see what Christie does, when the tide turns and the public isn't as angry anymore.
When Schwarzenegger lost to the unions, he turned into a democrat. Christie hasn't lost a battle to the unions yet. But if he does, will he still be the same man we see on those videos, or will he become someone else? No one can answer that question one way or another right now. The real test of a leader is how he copes with setbacks. Christie hasn't suffered a major setback yet.
4. There's more to conservatism than just fiscal reforms. For that matter there's more to running a country. We're in the middle of a War on Terror, and Christie has inappropriate ties to Islamist groups. The environmentalists are bent on bringing America to its knees with Cap and Trade-- and Christie supports regional Cap and Trade at the expense of New Jersey residents who are stuck with higher electric bills. He's state that illegal immigrants are not committing a crime and accused opponents of illegal immigration of demagoguery. He's not very good on Second Amendment issues either.
Christie would probably make a fantastic Chief of Staff, but his positions are those of a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican. Anyone who had problems with McCain or Giuliani should have just as many problems with Christie. And unlike McCain and Giuliani, Christie doesn't have much of a tangible record on anything, making it that much harder to get a meaningful read on what he actually believes.
Handing over the keys to the White House to a newly minted state governor who has no track record outside of local politics is a dangerous proposition. Christie still has solid reform credentials,but we know very little about what he would do on anything besides that. And fiscal reforms too are not ideologically neutral. We don't just want to hammer the system together so it keeps running, we want to eliminate parts of it wholesale because they are having a detrimental effect on our society. Calls to defund PBS fit into that category. And it is doubtful that Christie would be on board with that.
5. Electability is subjective. Palin looked like a candidate the media couldn't touch when McCain picked her. We quickly found out otherwise. Coulter is arguing that Christie is electable, but we haven't really seen him come under attack by the national media. Imagine him after months of mockery on Saturday Night Live, and a media which spends all its time repeating that he's a fat corrupt idiot, attributing false quotes to him and humiliating him-- and the picture might change.
Christie is likely to come out of it better than Palin did, in part because of his attitude, but also because his beliefs are not so threatening to the media. He's a reformer and an insider. The media will hate him, but not nearly as much as they hated Bush or Palin, whom they rightly or wrongly perceived as social conservatives.
A race against Obama would be bloody and bruising, and Christie has made it clear that he's not interested. If he waits till 2016, then he can walk away from a state on the uptick and face off against a fresh crowd of Democratic candidates. It's a smart bet.
Despite Obama's unpopularity, a race against him will be one of the toughest campaigns ever fought. It's winnable, but it won't be easy. And it will be ugly. Christie has no reason to want to jump into the fray. It's easier for him to wait it out. He's betting that the odds are good that a Republican won't win 2012. And even if that happens then Christie is still governor, with another possible shot in 2020 or 2024. That may seem like a long time away, but Christie has been on and off in politics for 16 years. By 2018, he may have wrapped up two terms in office and be ready for a serious bid. And he'll still only be in his late 50's or early 60's by then.
And that's the fifth and final reason. Christie isn't ready to run yet, and we aren't ready for him to run. The Obama tradition of running for the highest office as soon as you get famous is not a good one. Christie will play at the national level. He's sure to show up at the RNC convention. He'll do some more campaigning in 2012. All that will let him get to know more of the power players, and form connections that will come in handy if he decides to run for president. Assuming he ever does.
If Obama wins in 2012, then Christie will be a very likely candidate in 2016. But Christie's appeal is fiscal reforms, and that issue will lose urgency when the economy does eventually bounce back. The underlying problems will still be there. And they will lead to another even worse depression. But people will go back to viewing them as abstract, once they have steady jobs and solid investments. Christie can probably still run on economic issues in 2016, though it may already be more difficult. But 2020 and 2024 are a lot harder to predict. There will be too many changes by then. And Christie's reform credentials may be a lot less appealing then.
(Footnote: for additional information see Chris Christie: A Conservative Myth at Conservative New Jersey.