by Wlady Pleszczynski
"HE DOESN'T GIVE a s--- what people think,” a Republican “close” to Chris Christie told Politico after the governor denounced the Republican House and Speaker Boehner (yes, by name) for voting down a pork-laden aid bill in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We pretty much knew Christie felt that way, though it was good to see it confirmed in writing. The bigger question, one that should concern Christie, is what people think about him.
We know he’s home safe in New Jersey, cruising toward re-election this November as he enjoys high approval numbers, a whittled Democratic opposition he himself helped weaken, and growing celebrity among those who care about such things. The problem for him is that almost nothing he’s done to win New Jersey can translate into a winning national Republican candidacy, let alone one that conservatives could in any way trust.
For one thing, there is glaring fact of his New Jerseyness. Big, fat, coarse, he’s forever pushing his weight around, playing the wise guy or the charmer, always insisting on being the center of attention (unless Barack Obama comes calling), the big shot in a small place, the son of a “Sicilian” (not Italian) mother, as he said at the Tampa convention. He may not know better. He’s never really lived and worked anywhere else. How someone this provincial can be said to have national ambitions is a mystery.
By now most everyone knows Christie has attended 130 concerts by that prince of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen, can recite all of his lyrics, and never seemed to mind that the harshly progressive Springsteen wouldn’t give him time of day—at least not until after a post-Sandy benefit just days before the election when, according to Christie, Springsteen hugged him and said, “It’s official, we’re friends.” After that, the New York Times’ Kate Zernike reported, “the governor said he went home and wept.” (Ridi, Pagliaccio!)
The Times story has an even happier ending. On election eve, President Obama called Christie from Air Force One and told him there was someone who wanted to speak with him. Next thing he heard, “Governor, this is Bruce.” Who needs the IRS to clinch an election when one has Chris Christie?
And yes, there’s no way to sugarcoat Christie’s betrayal of his own party’s candidate a week before Election Day. It’s one thing to act professionally when disaster strikes and the president comes calling. But did Christie essentially have to blow Romney off while repeatedly praising Obama as “incredibly supportive,” and “outstanding,” or to say the president deserved “great credit” and call theirs “a great working relationship”? I won’t describe the body language conveyed during their joint appearances, beyond noting that Christie later said he was pinching himself to be aboard Marine One.
In short, with a critical national election just hours away, a rising GOP star could not have cared less how well his party’s ticket did. Worse, he was totally untroubled that for all intents he had endorsed the other party’s guy. If there’s any comfort in understanding that he did so, it’s that it closes the book on Christie’s horrendous keynote address at the 2012 Republican convention, in which he did not mention Messrs. Romney and Ryan until the two-thirds point. If not for primetime-related pressures, he probably would have spent even longer that night talking himself up, setting in motion his run for the 2016 nomination.
Has he done any party-building? No doubt he thinks he did by naming a crony, a Republican, to warm the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg until a special election can be held in October to return it to the Democrats. That way he made sure his friend Cory Booker won’t be on the ticket in November to eat into his own margin of victory. God knows the GOP is the weak sister of New Jersey politics, but Christie has made sure he’s the only Republican in the state who might benefit from his tenure. At this stage, the bang-up job he did in the first year of his governorship, confronting public employees unions and their Democratic handlers and cutting back onerous property taxes, is long forgotten. He flirted with a presidential run in the 2012 cycle and doubtless enjoyed the urging many leading players and big donors gave him to join the race. But that was before he failed his two big tests, and nothing since Obama’s reelection has restored his fleeting promise.
Otherwise serious and smart conservatives often fall prey to wishful thinking, hoping against hope that they’ve found a sure-fire winner. Remember their reactions to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory in California? Many were ready to amend the Constitution to allow him to run for president. Rick Perry, a more dependable conservative, they turned into a political colossus. At least he represented a big state. But the governor of New Jersey? Even the Wall Street Journal, which has done its part to champion Christie, saw right through him leading up to his first election. “Chris Christie’s Empty Campaign” was the headline of its editorial on October 2, 2009.
At last report, Christie was picking fights with the GOP’s insurgent Rand Paul wing, joining the chorus of militant moderates who’ve lost any interest in taking the fight to Obama and his Democrats. On a sadder note, Christie has gone under the knife in an effort to curtail his appetite. Whatever his political future, it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever see him again stuffing donuts into his mouth on the David Letterman show.
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