I used to like Chris Christie a lot. I thought he was tough and funny and smart. But there were signs along the way that maybe Christie was not a great a fit for the Party as a presidential candidate, at least not for the conservative wing of the party.
Problem number one is Christie’s obesity. Christie has done very well in New Jersey and is popular despite his physique. But his bulk would immediately be a strike against a presidential candidacy. Just imagine the crude jokes the left would unleash to mock Christie’s weight. Imagine all the doctors that would be interviewed on MSNBC or ABC or CBS on the psychology of overeaters or the physical dangers inherent in obesity. Picture Diane Sawyer looking sad (and a bit boozy) as she discussed the likelihood of his death from cardiac arrest in the first term of a presidency. His weight would be the 800-pound gorilla wherever he went. I’m sure, no matter his protestations, that the lap-band surgery he recently had was a sign that Christie himself knows that being fat is a major obstacle to higher office.
Christie’s other problem is much more general: he isn’t seen as a conservative and he doesn’t feel like a conservative. This liberal image persists despite the fact that on the issues, so far, he is not a typical liberal, either. He says he is personally pro-life and against late-term abortion, but he is ambiguous on abortion rights in general and Roe v Wade. He vetoed legislation approving gay marriage, but may find a way out of his conflict with his state’s voters via a referendum. He is fiscally conservative, but opted to expand Medicare in New Jersey under Obamacare, and yet he rejected setting up a state-run insurance exchange. Because there is such a difference between his stated views and what his state and he as governor have done, he will be open to charges of being too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals.
Then there is the matter of his snarkiness and what seems to be an inability to control his tongue and temper. His high-profile snuggling with Obama after Hurricane Sandy was particularly offensive to conservative voters. We were in the midst of a critical election with a less than glowing candidate and Christie had no problem slipping the knife into Romney. Mayor Bloomberg said, stay away Mr. President, we’ve got too much work to do to entertain politicians. Why didn’t Christie do likewise? Instead the world got to see how beloved Obama was even to the Republicans in the guise of the rotund governor.
I have my own suspicions about why Christie pulled that stunt. Of course one motive was to hype his endearment quotient with the Jersey voters. But a second reason, in my theory, was that Mitt Romney didn’t offer him the vice presidential nomination. Instead he chose the physical fitness nut and marathon runner Paul Ryan, a smart and vigorous man without an ounce of fat. The way I see it, word would certainly have reached Christie that he had been seriously considered but rejected because of his weight problem. People talk. Stuff gets around. If Romney indeed took into consideration physical condition and appearances, he would have quickly crossed Christie off his list. This doesn’t mean Christie was prepared to run as Veep had he gotten the nod from Romney. Maybe he calculated that Romney was going to lose even with Thomas Jefferson as a running mate. But if Christie even suspected he had been cast aside because he was fat, he would have been steaming. The visit of Obama gave him a chance to vent.
Just a theory. But that terrible moment of male bonding on a dreary beach made me look at Christie differently and see him not as a jolly sharp-tongued politico but as a vindictive man who takes his revenge in sly ways. The image won’t go away now and when I hear him positioning himself for a run at the presidential nomination I think: what political affiliation will you choose? How will you explain to us the difference between your heart and your governance? And why would my country need another vindictive politician as president?
I personally don’t have a problem with what governors do in their own states – they are acting as the Constitution expects them to, representing the interests of the citizens of their states, not those of the country at large. If Texans overwhelmingly support using Texas taxes to pay tuition for illegals at state universities – it isn’t my money and I’ll let the Texans decide. The same goes for Bloomberg in New York – if you want to mandate a morning jog for every New Yorker, prohibit the sale of soda and put everybody in spandex to make them aware of their flaws, I don’t care. I don’t live there. But if they try to take their state solutions for life’s problems into the national arena – then I care.
This split between what is good for a state and what is good for a nation makes it hard for a former governor to run for the presidency. Even if he says he opposed the laws he signed, it is still a governor’s record in office that the nation uses to judge his intentions. As history has proven, overcoming that voter prejudice more often than not proves an insurmountable obstacle. Just ask Rick Perry. Christie won’t get the conservative vote and can’t even count on a big Democrat cross-over vote, because those voters may not be well-informed or sensible, but they’re smart enough to put their mark by the big D on the ballot. What that boils down to is this: if Chris Christie were to win the nomination, he would lose the presidential election. There would be a third party bid by conservatives, guaranteed.
The problem for the GOP going forward is that the decision-makers running the show have lost the trust of the conservative rank-and-file and hence the certainty of their votes. More and more people are making their own judgment of Party candidates and they won’t support anybody suspected of flying under a false flag. Conservatives are in a state of extreme agitation. Nice words won’t work any better than the insults the GOP has heaped on their heads. They want the real deal when it comes to candidates, they want people who share their concerns about the country and who are ready to do battle in Washington. The GOP instead wants to conciliate, buying in on Democrat platform issues in an attempt to ditch the conservative image. But conservatives have moved beyond passive acceptance. They have been activated. Now they are looking for the content of a candidate’s character and if it is found wanting, and their ideas found too dissonant, a large share of the GOP will simply not vote for the Party candidate.
So here is a little advice for Christie: run for Senator from New Jersey. It’s a nice safe bet for you