Arnold Schwarzenegger won re-election handily in 2006, defeating his hapless opponent Phil Angelides by a 56% to 38.9% margin. Yet this sizable win was a meaningless victory for the GOP. Similarly, Chris Christie’s thumping victory on Tuesday night over an equally forgettable candidate contains almost no national meaning, save that Chris Christie is good for Chris Christie. Like Schwarzenegger, Christie cruised to re-election not as a real Republican but as a preening non-partisan moderate. Like Schwarzenegger, Christie’s popularity hasn’t translated into any support for Republicans in his own legislature.
Which raises the question: How could Christie turn blue states red nationwide if he can’t turn his own legislature red?
The breathless burbling about how Chris Christie’s victory “shows the path forward for the GOP” conveniently ignores his inability to turn New Jersey red for anyone but himself. Before election day, the New Jersey media didn’t see any reason for the Dems to worry about a Christie victory, as they enjoy a 48-32 majority in the Assembly and a 24-16 lead in the state Senate. While these numbers may change, early reports indicate most incumbents will be reelected. The New Jersey media reported that most polls indicate support for Christie won’t help any down-ballot Republicans. In 2009, Christie’s coat-tail effect was negligible too, resulting in only one new Assembly seat for the Republicans.
Like Schwarzenegger, Christie is a useful idiot for the Democrats—a needy, politically correct, ruling-class Republican who is trending liberal on everything from “climate change” to gay marriage to size-of-government issues. Christie loves the liberal limelight—a trait that will only intensify over time. The Democrats know a Trojan Horse when they see one.
Of course, establishment Republicans—the same geniuses who parachuted Schwarzenegger into office to the long-term detriment of their party—will ooh and ahh over Christie’s victory and argue that Tuesday’s results, in which the moderate in New Jersey won and the conservative in Virginia lost, illustrate the wisdom of ideological flexibility and the value of distance from the Tea Party. Never mind that Cuccinelli, who ran a lame and scared campaign, had made a point of avoiding Ted Cruz, even though it was Cruz’s brave stance against Obamacare and the consequences of its buffoonish rollout that ended up making the race much closer than anyone expected.
“In the clearest sign yet of the potent effect of the government shutdown on the Virginia governor’s race, Republican Ken Cuccinelli avoided being photographed with Ted Cruz at a gala they headlined here Saturday night—even leaving before the Texas senator rose to speak,” reported Politico in early October. Republicans who behave in this craven fashion don’t deserve to win. Cuccinelli didn’t lose because he hewed to the Tea Party line; he lost because he didn’t. Had he played up his conservatism instead of running away from it while lashing McAuliffe as a pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage socialist, he might have galvanized conservatives and won the race.
Even the media found it a little difficult to sustain the this-is-a-defeat-for-the-Tea-Party narrative after the Virginia results came in, as they showed a race that the Republicans could easily have won, had the Libertarian not run, had Cuccinelli actually tried, had stingy Republican fat cats donated money to ad campaigns, had Republicans bothered to expose McAuliffe’s radicalism, etc.
The future of the GOP is not Christie but Cruz. Have the Republicans learned nothing from Romney’s loss, McCain’s loss, Dole’s loss? The lesson is simple: do not run moderates; that just hands victory to the Dems from the start. A basic test for any GOP nominee should be: Can this candidate win his own state? In Christie’s case, the question, despite Tuesday’s results, remains open. After all, he wasn’t exactly running against Hillary Clinton. Another test is: Can this candidate reclaim his own legislature for his party? If not, all the enthusiasm is empty. Republican governors in blue states that remain for all intents and purposes blue always end up doing damage to the party, racking up personal victories for themselves while selling out the party’s principles.