Is There a Place For Chris Christie?

The current New Jersey Governor and GOP presidential candidate has had a rough time since winning a landslide reelection in 2013.  Between his now infamous embrace of Obama on the beach in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to the non-scandal known as “Bridgegate,” things have been tough.  Let us leave aside for a moment THE HUG an concentrate on the bridge scandal.  This obviously was a terrible idea concerning political retribution initiated and carried out by lower level operatives in his administration.  Three (count them) investigations have cleared Christie personally.  Hillary could take a clue from Christie on damage control when he endured over an hour of pointed questioning during a news conference.  The reason he could do that successfully and Clinton could not contemplate it is that Christie knew he was personally not responsible.  It took Clinton over three months to deliver a non-apology which she still defends.

Leaving behind that episode since it is one of local politics since Christie is perhaps the only governor in history to be accused of a bridge lane closure, his candidacy for president remains troubled.  Despite scoring points in three debates in prime time, he was relegated to the under card in the FBN debate on November 10th.  To some, this should be a clue to exit the race and concentrate on New Jersey and his political future.  After the 2016 election, Christie is term-limited in New Jersey.

However, being one of ten (or eight) and vying for valuable time in a prime time debate is one thing while being one of four and going up against clearly third-tier candidates, Christie had a chance to shine.  Whether that translates into improved polling numbers- which determine participants in future debates- remains to be seen.  It did, after all, catapult Carly Fiorina after the first debate.  And despite the conservative love affair with Bobby Jindal, Christie appears a more electable and palatable participant in this slugfest called the Republican primary.

This writer has no doubts that Chris Christie will NOT be the eventual Republican nominee to take on Hillary Clinton in November 2016.  Too many things would have to go seriously wrong for at least six other candidates for Christie to advance.  But, one could envision a Christie-Clinton debate and the drama and entertainment value bonanza it would be.  It isn’t happening!

From the conservative side, one has to put Christie in perspective.  Some characterize him as the “typical Northeastern Republican,” and there is some truth to it.  But, New Jersey is a decidedly blue state with a Democratic majority in both the state assembly and state senate.  That is the political reality facing Christie when it comes to policy and legislation.  If anything has to be done in the state, he has to compromise and negotiate with the Democratic legislature.  Hence, some of the proposals put forth by Christie are watered down.  Compare this with Wisconsin where Scott Walker has engaged in a more aggressively conservative agenda and has achieved greater results than in New Jersey.  The difference is that Walker, unlike Christie, is dealing with a Republican-led legislature.  This is not an excuse; it is the reality.

This writer lives and works in New Jersey and is fully aware of the reality in New Jersey.  Despite taking credit for many reforms, property taxes still are rising while wages have stagnated.  Residents and businesses are still voting with their feet and leaving the state, although the rate has abated somewhat.  Christie’s stock answer- “You should have seen it before I became Governor…” – is akin to the Obama excuse of the shambled economy he inherited.  Citizens and voters simply don’t want to hear those excuses, although there may be shreds of truth to the comments.

Further, many of Christie’s reforms are structural in nature and designed for improvement in the long-term.  Voters and residents are more short-sighted.  And everyone in the state- citizens, senior citizens, workers, unions, businesses, etc.- are fully aware that Christie is term-limited.  They are also acutely aware that the Republican bench in the state come 2017 is not as strong as the Democratic bench.  Other than current Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, few names are mentioned on the GOP side while there are at least four viable Democrats mentioned.  After Christie’s eight years, chances favor the Democrats in New Jersey in 2017.  The future may be a return to the past and the recent past has not been kind to the state or its citizens.

So what is Christie’s future?  This writer has no doubt that no matter who the eventual Republican presidential nominee is, Christie will be out there fighting for them.  His performance as head of the RGA cannot be ignored.  He was an effective fundraiser and campaigner for Republicans in 2014 gubernatorial contests, and successful when the final vote counts were tallied.  In gubernatorial races, Republicans garnered greater than 56% of all votes in 37 contests and won 65% of the races.  In 2010, Republicans gained 50.7% of the total votes and won 59% of the contests.  Most importantly as concerns Christie, he was 13-2 in races where he invested RGA money and his time losing only in Pennsylvania and a very close race in Connecticut.  His intervention was welcomed in tough races in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and Maine keeping these seats Republican.  His early backing of Larry Hogan in Maryland, Bruce Rauner in Illinois and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts created Republican governors in very blue states.

Clearly, Christie is a very effective campaigner for other candidates especially if he believes in the candidate.  Second, being freed of the constraints of a presidential campaign, I expect him to take the Democratic legislature on after the 2016 election.  Being still on the campaign trail for others, he will not lurch dramatically to the right until after the election.  He will have nothing to lose and everything to gain to establish his conservative credentials.  This will be done because of one of two reasons: (1) he is positioning himself for a run in 2020 should Clinton win, or (2) he is positioning himself for a cabinet position should a Republican win, or possibly even a senatorial run (less likely).

As his debate performances have proven and his twice being elected a Republican Governor in a blue state (once in a landslide), we have not heard the last of Chris Christie.  This writer is acutely aware of the occasional hatred and somewhat deserved mistrust of him by readers here.  He is viewed as an overweight bully by many (although the weight jokes and nicknames are rather juvenile).  But, no one should count him out politically.  He is relatively young still and will be a player in the future.  Clearly, 2016 was not his year.