So New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is on the road campaigning for Republican candidates throughout the country. It’s not the first time a Garden State governor has left the state and gone on a national tour to see the sights and to expand his or her political brand. But, there is something different about the Chris Christie phenomenon. Sure, some Republican Governors like Tom Kean in the 80s and Christie Whitman in the 90s were talked about nationally during their tenure. And while Kean was a much more legitimate national figure than Whitman, political times are very different in 2010, which is why Chris Christie is so sought after as a stump speaker, fundraiser and all around GOP cheerleader.
Simply put, the Republican Party is in big trouble. Sure, the Democrats have some serious problems and they are going to lose Congressional seats—maybe even here in New Jersey. Yes, people are angry at President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress, but there is a legitimate civil war going on in the GOP. The Tea Partiers are on a roll and it is freaking out the more traditional party establishment.
So where does Chris Christie fit in all of this? First, he is a Republican governor in a state that leans decidedly Democratic. He beat Democrat Jon Corzine, a guy who spent an obscene amount of his own money to save his political hide. Christie led the effort to balance the state budget and has taken some very tough stands with the public employee unions. While there is much work to be done to get the state’s fiscal house in order, Christie seems serious about shrinking the size of government and cutting costs. Sure, I disagree with his position on cutting taxes on those who earn the most in our state—and his proposal to cut even more income taxes on the wealthiest New Jerseyans faces daunting obstacles—but Christie is on a role. He stands out as a legitimate fiscal conservative in a party that talks a good game but hasn’t done much to shrink the size of government and reign in spending.
Further, let’s face it, most politicians are pretty boring. They are hard to listen to because they spout out tired and hackneyed political pabulum. They provide nothing but sound bites generated by spin masters and PR types. What makes Christie appealing on a national level is that even if you disagree with him, he communicates in a fashion that is compelling, interesting and blunt. You never have to wonder exactly what he is saying, which shouldn’t be such a big deal in politics, but it is. The fact that Chris Christie—after only a few months in office—is seen as a national rising GOP star says something about him, but it says a lot more about the massive vacuum in the Republican party. Sarah Palin is a joke. Mitt Romney? Didn’t we try that before? Newt Gingrich? Didn’t he spearhead the 1994 contract “on”—I mean “for”—America as the Speaker of the House? Tim Pawlenty? Who?
Let’s face it. Chris Christie stands out as a national figure in part because the competition isn’t that great. It’s like the New York Yankees being a contender for the Little League World Series. (Unfortunately Chris Christie is a Mets fan.) I mean, who are you playing against? My intent is not to disparage Governor Christie at all (on many levels I’m a fan), but rather to say that no matter what he says about having no interest in running nationally in 2012, the political realities of his Party’s ineptness, not to mention its inner turmoil, may force him into a national arena well before his political timetable.
Christie has figured out how to walk a delicate line between relating to the establishment GOP types while not freaking out the Tea Party zealots. Over time, that’s going to be a hard balancing act to keep up because at the core, I am convinced Christie is a moderate who does not believe in the same things that most Tea Party supported candidates believe in. He doesn’t want to throw out all the existing office holders. He doesn’t want to scrap the entire system and start from scratch. He is not obsessed with gay rights and even though he is pro-life, you notice he doesn’t talk about it much?
Simply put, Governor Chris Christie is a smart, practical, pragmatic and compelling political figure. For right now, his star is on the rise, and I don’t blame him for taking full advantage of it, because in politics, political popularity lasts a nanosecond. Just ask Barack Obama.