Is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a real Republican – or in name only?
Posted: August 5, 2013 Filed under: Mediasphere, Reading Room | Tags: Barack Obama, Chris Christie, Christie, Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey, New Jersey Governor, United States, White House
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a lot more conservative than people think
Take a look at Christie’s record and you’ll see he is hardly a ‘Republican in name only’. He also could beat Hillary Clinton
President Barack Obama shakes hands with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie before speaking about rebuilding efforts following last year’s Hurricane Sandy. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
In large swaths of conservative America, the thinking is that the Republican who may be best positioned to win the White House is not really a Republican.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is branded with a four-letter word, RINO (Republican In Name Only). Pundit Ann Coulter declares that Christie is “dead” to her. Talk radio poobah Rush Limbaugh says Christie will be the 2016 presidential nominee – for the Democrats.
Meanwhile, liberals and moderates see him as a Republican they could learn to like, if not love. Bill Clinton invited him for a friendly chit-chat on stage to culminate his Clinton Global Initiative conference in June. Barack Obama played a football toss boardwalk game with him at the Jersey Shore in May. And liberal network MSNBC consistently portrays him as a post-partisan hero.
But there should be no confusion here. What those in both corners of the political spectrum should understand is that Christie has governed New Jersey as a straight-down-the-line, if not pragmatic, conservative. And there is no indication that a President Christie wouldn’t govern in the same conservative way.
Consider this: Planned Parenthood clinics have solely closed because of Christie (he has rejected state funding five times). New Jersey is one of two states in the entire northeast without gay marriage (he vetoed a gay marriage bill). And the minimum wage remains $7.25 an hour (he punted to voters, who will decide in November whether to raise it).
Christie has cut business taxes and provided $2.1bn in subsidies and grants for corporations. By refusing to continue a so-called millionaire’s tax, he kept taxes down for the wealthy. And by cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit, he effectively raised taxes on the working poor.
He has demonized public employee unions, forcing teachers, cops and public workers to pay more for health benefits and pension contributions. Despite one of the toughest teachers’ unions in the nation, he has succeeded in getting through several “education reform” measures – like charter school expansion, merit pay and tenure tied to performance instead of seniority. He pulled out of a major project that would have boosted public transportation, and a multi-state treaty that sought to limit carbon emissions.
Christie did all of this despite a Democratic Legislature in one of the bluest states in the country. What more could conservatives want?
When you drill down into it, the real reasons for Christie distrust on the right is more about rhetoric and optics than substance and policy.
Christie’s most unforgivable and possibly politically fatal move was his bro-hug of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Obama visited Christie in New Jersey just six days before the 2012 presidential election, and not only did Christiegreet him warmly but he also praised him for his leadership! It was a shocking move, particularly in such a hyper-partisan age, and he will have to summon his considerable oratorical skills to explain his way out of this during a 2016 Republican primary fight.
He will note that up to that point he was a loyal Romney soldier, having been the first major Republican to endorse him and the keynote speaker at the Republican convention. At a Romney rally days before Sandy, Christie likened Obama to a blind man “clutching for the light switch of leadership“. But in the aftermath of the storm, he needed Obama’s help and money to save his state from a major crisis.
Beyond Sandy, conservatives have other, smaller beefs. When Christie appointed a Muslim lawyer to a judgeship, conspiracy theorists growled that the man would implement Sharia law. Christie, as he does, dismissed those critics by saying: “I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”
Most recently, Republicans were pissed that he spent $24m for two quick special elections to replace the late Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg instead of keeping a Republican appointee in the seat for 18 months. The Republican he did appoint until the special election, Jeff Chiesa, ended up voting for immigration reform. Grrrrr, went the right. But must that reflect on Christie?
Christie hasn’t helped himself by being a little too gleeful in feuding with fellow conservatives, airing grievances that traditionally stay in smoky back rooms. He has fought with Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Congressman Peter King. He called out House Speaker John Boehner for holding up Sandy aid, he scolded the National Rifle Association for putting the Obama girls in an ad after the Newtown shooting massacre and he most recently got into it with Senator Rand Paul over national security – even refusing Paul’s offer to make up over beers.
And although there are more legitimate conservative cases to be made against Christie, none make him an absolute outlier among Republicans. He has accepted part, but not all, of Obamacare. He has slowed, but not yet not stopped, Democrats’ gun control measures. And although his current budget is the lowest since 2008, spending has increased each year of his term and property taxes levied by New Jersey localities have gone up.
No, Christie may not be the reincarnation of some idealized version of Ronald Reagan. But Republicans could soon have to decide whether that’s more important than this:Christie ties with Hillary Clinton in polls of general election voters. Conservative or RINO, Obama-loving or Obama-hating, no other Republican in America can boast that.