The possibility of a Chris Christie presidential campaign is back in the news, after Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot suggested on Fox News Sunday that the New Jersey governor is reconsidering a bid after being courted by a number of prominent Republicans.
At Richochet, Peter Robinson suggests that Christie would lose credibility with conservatives if he were to enter the national stage (post title: “One Cheer–Two at the Most–for Candidate Christie?). Robinson notes:
Once Christie’s opponents began pointing out the thinness of his record as a conservative–he has bashed back the rate of growth of state spending, but the budget is still bigger than when he took office, and he has failed to enact structural reforms, improve schools, or, really, to do much of anything else at all–once this became understood, Christie’s support in the tea party would drop sharply. “He’d lose,” my friend said, “and then he’d come back to New Jersey too damaged to be effective. It would be the worst of both worlds.”
Robinson and his friend are mistaken. Christie’s record not only includes significant structural reforms, but it’s also remarkable for the crucial fact that he is the governor of a deep-blue, union-friendly state. Given the difficulty of governing as a conservative in New Jersey, Christie’s accomplishments are among the most impressive of any governor.
In his first year, Christie closed a massive deficit without raising taxes, working with a Democratic legislature. He followed up on that victory by signing a 2 percent property tax growth cap, a measure similar to a tax cap that has proven to be a significant restraint on government spending in Massachusetts.
This year, Christie signed a public employee benefits reform bill that limits collective bargaining by workers for benefits, raises the retirement age, requires a greater employee contribution for benefits, and suspends automatic cost of living allowances. Overall, according to Christie, the reform will save the state $130 billion. While the state’s public employee pension fund is still badly underfunded, Christie deserves credit for taking the first step toward bringing New Jersey’s long-term liabilities into line with its revenues. The underfunding of public workers’ pensions and health care benefits is sort of the analogue to the long-term entitlements problem on the national stage. Christie’s experience would prepare him well to take on the debt issue.
In addition to being battle-testing on budget issues, Christie also has a rhetorical style that is tailor-made for a national audience looking for unabashed leadership. Jennifer Rubin relays a speech of his from earlier this year:
What’s the truth that no one is talking about – here is the truth that no one is talking about: You’re going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security. Oh, I just said it, and I’m still standing here! I did not vaporize into the carpeting, and I said it! We have to reform Medicare because it costs too much and it is going to bankrupt us. Once again lightning did not come through the windows and strike me dead. And we have to fix Medicaid because it’s not only bankrupting the federal government, it’s bankrupting every state government. There you go. If we’re not honest about these things, on the state level about pensions and benefits and on the federal level about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we are on the path to ruin.
In sum, Christie has an appealing political style, and the achievements to back it up. On the issue of the day — the federal debt — Christie is as credible as any other plausible Republican candidate.
Of course, Christie wouldn’t be a perfect candidate by any means. Most importantly, he only has two years of experience as governor. His views on foreign policy are more or less undefined. And on a number of hot-button issues — namely gun control, global warming, and immigration — he has given conservatives cause for nervousness.
But his achievements are real, all the more so because they took place in New Jersey.