Why Cruz and Not Trump: The Lesson of Chris Christie

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Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean used to appear in advertisements for state tourism with the tag line, “New Jersey and you…perfect together.”  The same can be used to describe the Trump-Christie bromance.  Governor Chris Christie may be kicking himself in the butt right now (it should he easy; it is a big target) over his endorsement of Donald Trump.  Prior to the New Hampshire primary, they had a private dinner together and one would have loved to be a fly on the wall.  No doubt, Christie knew his presidential aspirations were over at that point and he likely cut some kind of deal.  Thus, the endorsement so soon after putting his tail between his legs and slinking back to Trenton.

There are definite parallels between Trump and Christie which make them natural political bed mates.  Christie rode into office with a “Tell it like it is” bravado that was targeted at both Democrats and Republicans.  That is the gist of Trump’s rise to prominence and we hear it from his avid supporters: “He tells it like it is,” “He’s unfiltered,” “He’s not afraid to take on anyone.”  But as we have seen and will see with Christie, it is all mostly talk and “talk” clearly defines Donald Trump because he is obviously devoid of any real policy solutions.

Eventually, the bluster catches up to you and it is called reality.  So one needs to look at Christie’s reality.  New Jersey is no better today than it was in 2009 when he ran for office.  According to ALEC’s assessment of state economies, New Jersey ranks 46th- exactly where they did in 2009.

One of his alleged accomplishments was reforming pensions of public workers.  When he became Governor, the state pension system had unfunded liabilities of $31 billion.  After his reforms passed, they dropped to $26 billion but have since ballooned back to $37.5 billion.  So what happened?  A lot has to do with inept and optimistic forecasts that did not come to fruition.  In 2014, he promised to make a payment into the system and even had the legislature codify it into law.  He reneged on the promise and his own law.  Sounds a lot like Trump reneging on promises.

The point is not the denigration of the public worker pension system in New Jersey.  It is certainly ripe with fraud, waste and double/triple dipping.  Instead, the point is that Christie rode into office on the proviso he was going to make certain reforms and it would not be business as usual.  The fact is that most of his reforms have been largely cosmetic, or tinkering at the edges.  If Trump is anything like Christie, that big beautiful wall will start out as one thing and likely end up as a stretch of corrugated sheet metal stuck in the sand.  And Mexico will not pay a dime.

Christie claims he has balanced the state budget during his tenure without raising taxes.  Indeed he has balanced the budget as is required by the state constitution.  The more important question is how this was achieved and one realizes he used the same budget gimmickry and sleight of accounting hand that his Democratic predecessors used and a “rob Peter to pay Paul” mentality that has plagued Trenton for years.

After cancelling a proposed tunnel to New York, he took $1.25 billion of dedicated toll money for the project and used it towards other bridge and road projects.  Nothing the matter with that except he then took it a second time and applied it to the state operational budget to plug shortfalls.  As a result, the state’s transportation trust fund had to borrow $1 billion.

Since New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country, they established a rebate system in the form of tax credits.  To balance the budget, Christie has delayed payments.  In 2007, New Jersey paid $2 billion to 1.7 million property owners.  Under Christie in 2015, they paid $374 million to 780,000 homeowners.  He blamed this on Jon Corzine changing the eligibility requirements which could have easily been changed back by him.

In 2013, he outsourced the state’s lottery system to an outside vendor who provided $120 million upfront.  That money was applied to the budget to plug shortages.  It was done with the expectation of growing lottery sales which have actually decreased 3%.  And how is this for a deal?  ExxonMobil caused an estimated $8.9 billion in environmental damage in the state.  Christie settled for a $225 million payment which ExxonMobil paid with $190 million going to the 2015 budget for shortfalls and the remainder going to the 2016 budget.

These fiscal policies are akin to how Trump runs his business.  He shuffles money around using that same policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul.  As with Christie and the promised pension payments, Trump screws the little guys by running to bankruptcy court and using the system just as Christie does.

Further, they are both pretty much cry babies.  Trump rails about the rules of the RNC and the fact that Ted Cruz gamed him on the convention rules.  Therefore, they must be rigged.  With Christie, how many times did we hear, “I have to deal with a Democratic legislature?”  Or, “I have to abide by the decision of a liberal state supreme court?” (even though he appoints liberals to that court).  When these criticisms of New Jersey’s economy is brought to his attention, it is the musings of a liberal press out to get him even though conservative outlets like ALEC rank New Jersey’s economy one of the worst in the country under Christie.

Just as Donald Trump is not the great businessman he portrays himself to be and thus become the main reason he claims people should vote for him, neither was Christie the great federal prosecutor he claimed to be which he parlayed into becoming Governor.  Most importantly, Christie caught the voters of New Jersey at the right time over growing frustration regarding excessive taxation and Corzine’s ethical problems.  Likewise, Trump latched onto his populist star over growing electorate anger and frustration with the political system.

Just as Trump wants to build a physical wall to keep illegal immigrants out, Christie has built a wall to keep businesses out of the state.  Just as Trump wants to round up and deport illegal aliens/immigrants, Christie is deporting New Jersey residents (a net loss of over 500,000 residents over the past ten years coupled with the flight of businesses and jobs).  New Jersey stands to lose another congressional district after the 2020 Census if current trends continue.

And the reason for these similarities are easy to cull: neither Christie nor Trump are principled conservatives.  They are opportunistic “conservatives” who viewed the Republican Party as the best vehicle to advance their political aspirations.  In effect, they both highjacked not only the GOP, but conservatism.

This is why it is so important that the national electorate not get hoodwinked like the voters of New Jersey were in 2009.  Most of Christie’s fiscal policies are actually very similar to the tactics and methods used by his Democratic predecessors.  Likewise, one can expect the same from Donald Trump where there is actually little light between his policy positions (such that any exist) and those of a candidate like Hillary Clinton.

Instead, the logical choice if one does not want to get duped is to vote for a principled conservative like Ted Cruz, not someone who talks like a conservative Republican, but acts like a Democrat.  This writer realizes mathematical facts and one is that Ted Cruz’s chances of being the nominee on the first ballot are dwindling.  But let us not be afraid of the bully tactics (“riots in the streets” of Cleveland, “a rough July for the RNC”) of Trump when he fails in a contested convention.

Because at the end of the day, just as Chris Christie is an overweight, slovenly pussy cat who hisses real loud, so is Trump (just take away the word”cat”).  Some might say that a vote not for Trump, should he prevail, is like a vote for Hillary.  As the New Jersey example illustrates, in the end what difference would it really make?