Chris Christie won reelection in dominant fashion on Tuesday, and beat his opponent by a margin of 60-36 percent. In a state with 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans, this is a major victory.
However, there are some in the conservative movement who will tell you this is a bad thing and that Christie is no true conservative. Nominate the most conservative candidate and he will always win, they say. I wonder if Ken Cuchinelli would agree.
The truth is, Christie’s victory is excellent news for conservatives and educational on how the party can be successful. One need not agree with all of Christie’s policies in order to learn from him. First, let’s dive into the positive. Christie is a pro-free market, pro-life, and union-fighting Republican. As my colleague Matt Purple has pointed out, his record is fantastic:
Christie’s reforms speak for themselves. He was elected governor in 2009 facing a $1 billion budget hole. He promptly declared a fiscal state of emergency and would balance the budget over the next four years, as is required by New Jersey’s constitution. While he did scale back some tax credits, he never signed an actual tax hike into law. He reduced the cap on the state’s annual property-tax increases from 4 percent to 2 percent; in 2011 this resulted in the smallest hike of that tax since 1992. He vetoed three consecutive attempts by the legislature to slap a new tax on millionaires…
Christie pushed for school boards to freeze teacher pay and require that education employees contribute more to their healthcare benefits. He ultimately approved a series of reforms that will save the state $120 billion over 30 years in pension funding, and $3.1 billion over 10 years in health care costs…
Christie’s reforms have helped New Jersey defy the stagnant job market. On his watch, the state has added 130,000 private-sector jobs and has seen its best job growth in 12 years. Jersey’s unemployment rate is also dropping at a rate not seen since the 1970s.
Does Christie line up perfectly with arch-conservatives on gun laws? No. Does he prioritize fighting against gay marriage? No. However, in the blue state of New Jersey, he has consistently outlined a conservative platform that has won over a broad coalition of people, including independents, Hispanics, a larger percentage of African Americans than any Republican in recent memory, and some staunch Democrats.
So what can we learn? Christie recently gave some thought to what has led to his electoral success:
“It's all about personal relationships. I mean relationships first and foremost with the voters, and second with the people that you work with every day in your own circle, so you have a unified front to move forward,” Christie said to PolitickerNJ.com when asked whether the unique dynamics of New Jersey's politics, including Christie's close relationships with Essex, Hudson and South Jersey Democrats, could be repeated on the national stage.
“Third, you need to have a relationship with the people in the legislative branch so that you can sit down and make agreements. If they, you know, because they know you, that you'll keep to your agreements, that means they'll keep to theirs.”…
“The people of New Jersey rewarded me last night for the personal relationship that we have, with a broad spectrum of people voting for me last night that hadn't voted for a Republican in a long time, and didn't vote for me four years ago,” Christie said. “Sometimes, I think people make politics too complicated. It's not that complex.”
Republicans should take some notes on Christie’s politicking. The love-fest between Christie and the president post-Sandy has enraged many conservatives and understandably so. But it was brilliant politics. Eighty-five percent of New Jersey voters believe Christie handled that crisis well. This is retail politics at it's best. Christie connects with voters in a personal, emotive way. They trust him to handle business.
Republicans in Congress are simply not good at this. Congress's approval rating is abysmal and trust in the GOP is not high. They have increasingly been cast as contrarians—often unfairly so, but optics like Christie’s would go a long way in fighting that perception.
It is not time for conservatives to compromise their principles, but it is time for those principles to be demonstrated in a way that appeals to the public. Conservatives have to find a way to connect with real folks, something Chris Christie clearly knows how to do.