A Precarious Perch: Can Chris Christie Stay On Top For 3 Years?
“When I'm out in the street, I walk the way I wanna walk
When I'm out in the street, I talk the way I wanna talk…”
-- “Out in the Street,” Bruce Springsteen
Chris Christie walked and talked the way he wanted this week in Asbury Park, New Jersey, a venue he selected as a symbol of his state’s massive rebuilding efforts one year after Superstorm Sandy — a political turning point for him — and, of course, because it’s where his music icon got his start.
Christie, though, was the rock star this week.
But the party was as much a fond farewell as it was a victory celebration because, when the governor’s race was called two minutes after the polls closed, the next contest began in earnest.
The crowd in Asbury Park was big and loud and brash — not unlike their candidate. But the party was as much a fond farewell as it was a victory celebration because, when the governor’s race was called two minutes after the polls closed, the next contest began in earnest.
The new Time magazine cover boy has already been anointed the GOP presidential frontrunner for 2016 — a precarious perch, for sure, because it is a long way to election-day.
The national media also thrives on the Humpty-Dumpty effect — setting up a candidate to be the presumed favorite, and then knocking that person down.
Christie, however, did nothing to discourage this treatment. In fact, he relishes the spotlight and was granting national media interviews on election-day prior to the polls closing. His team also presumably took next steps the morning after the election, helping get one of his top political strategists in place as GOP chair in New Hampshire. No one ever accused him of being shy.
Christie was officially welcomed to the presidential race the weekend before re-election by the release of excerpts from “Double Down,” Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s book about the 2012 election. But after reading their account of Christie — a.k.a. “Pufferfish” — the most appropriate initial reaction was, “Is that it?” If this is going to serve as a playbook for dragging down Christie, good luck.
Christie brings at least two critical strengths as a potential presidential candidate that neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney could claim.
The first — where he is underrated at the peril of his opponents — is his long-term strategic brilliance and perseverance. Those who have been in strategy sessions with him recognize that he’s always two steps ahead of the rest of the room. He provided a glimpse of his preparation when he stated, "You don’t just show six months before an election" and expect a community to vote for you.
He forged ties with New Jersey Democrats to both get his agenda accomplished in a Democratic-controlled legislature and to help ensure his massive victory total. He began laying the groundwork for this outcome the day after his first election, by visiting Democratic heavyweights in Newark to patiently build foundations for relationships that would pay dividends four years later.
Assuming exit polls are correct (they’re often problematic due to selection bias), he carried about half of Hispanic and about 20 percent of African-American voters. This was no accident. And it’s why GOP chair Reince Preibus was at the New Jersey Shore, and not in Virginia, on Tuesday.
The second trait that will serve Christie well leading up to 2016 is his plain-spokenness. Although it makes many love him or hate him, it serves multiple practical purposes. He gets his point across. He projects sincerity. The national media flock to cover him because he’s always an easy story — so he won’t be ignored. And he energizes the GOP electorate — something the GOP has sorely lacked in the last two presidential cycles outside of its Tea Party and libertarian members.
Washington Post (and other media-outlet) themes like “Pragmatism vs. Purity” represent more than a summary for Tuesday’s election results. They are designed to set up a stark theme, pitting conservatives against center-right candidates for the primaries. These dynamics, however, have percolated in the GOP at least since the days of Barry Goldwater, and when the party is not in the White House, the effect intensifies as its members become restless.
It’s no surprise, then, that Christie’s first challenge will be to manage the ideological spectrum in the Republican Party while forging his own sturdy coalition for the primaries. It will be a big hurdle, perhaps Reaganesque in scale. Conservative talk-show hosts — entertainers who play to their markets — and conservative candidates with their own eyes on the prize are already signaling their intent by taking pot shots at Christie. Many are already writing him off as a casualty of conservative GOP primaries.
Christie’s first challenge will be to manage the ideological spectrum in the Republican Party while forging his own sturdy coalition for the primaries.
Ironically, similar to Obama in 2008, part of Christie’s path to victory in the primaries lies in expanding his own party’s electorate by motivating voters who typically stay home.
He’ll need to do this by translating his relationship-based approach to politics to connect with voters and grass-root leaders in the primaries. And why wouldn’t he apply these skills to win over many of his party’s conservatives? Time is already of the essence for him.
Yet, as the moment was right for Obama to emerge from relative obscurity in 2008 and seize the Democratic mantle, it may be right for Christie to unite the GOP around his strategy. His boldness may give voice to many in the electorate who are fed up with dysfunction and feel they don’t have a say.
The more cynical members of the GOP electorate may also want to ask themselves, if Christie isn’t the answer for the GOP in 2016, who is?
This program aired on November 8, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.