He no sooner won re-election in New Jersey than he was catapulted into political stardom. He’s on the cover of Time magazine as “The Elephant in the Room,” (which is probably not how Christie would prefer to be known). He appeared on four out of five Sunday morning shows. NBC rushed out with a poll pitting him against Hillary Clinton in 2016 (he loses, 44 to 34). Mainstream Republicans hailed him as their Savior and a winning alternative to a tea party nominee. And New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez gushed: “I will support Governor Christie in anything he decides to do in life.”
Yes, the 2016 Chris Christie Express is leaving the station. But before politicians or voters of either major party rush to jump on board, they should pause to take a closer look at Chris Christie’s record. Despite all the hype and self-promotion, there may be a lot less to Christie than meets the eye.
For Republicans, especially, Christie is problematic. In fact, he personifies the civil war now splitting the party in two. For pragmatic, establishment Republicans, Christie is nothing short of the Second Coming. He’s a conservative who managed to win re-election in the bluest of blue states, while snaring 50 percent of the Latino vote, 20 percent of the African-American vote, 49 percent of voters 18 to 29 — and an amazing 32 percent of Democrats. No small feat.
But tea party Republicans aren’t buying it. For them, Christie’s not the real deal. They accuse him of caving too easily in his opposition to same-sex marriage, don’t trust him on abortion and blame him for agreeing to expand Medicaid under Obama. Above all else, they’ll never forgive him for helping make President Obama look good after Hurricane Sandy. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who may have his own designs on 2016, was the first to ask: “Is a conservative in New Jersey a conservative in the rest of the country?”
Of course, the reasons Tea Party Republicans don’t like Chris Christie are the same reasons so many Democrats do. But even Democrats should think twice about Christie. He may not be a tea party conservative, but he’s no moderate. He’s definitely a conservative, and his record proves it. He vetoed gun control legislation, opposed raising the minimum wage, vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood five times, fought marriage equality in New Jersey until the Supreme Court forced his hand, blocked a vital new transportation link between New Jersey and New York and forced teachers to pay more for their pensions and health care after promising, as a candidate for governor, to protect their benefits. All of this, while presiding over a New Jersey economy that has lagged behind the rest of the nation, with 8.5 percent unemployment.
In the end, what’s Christie most famous for? Two things: his in-your-face personality and his response to Hurricane Sandy, neither of which is enough to sustain a presidential campaign. He first came to national attention, remember, by verbally assaulting a teacher at a campaign rally, a display of mock anger he repeats almost every time he sees a teacher. That red-faced “Joisey” character trait may fit the Miami Dolphins locker room, but Americans have never elected a bully to the Oval Office.
And, granted, Christie did an outstanding job in response to Hurricane Sandy, thanks to the full assistance of President Obama and FEMA. But he only did what any governor, Republican or Democrat, would do. Tea party protests to the contrary, only an idiot would play politics so far as to reject federal aid for his state after a natural disaster. But if Christie thinks heroic response to one big event is a sure path to the White House, he should ask President Rudy Giuliani.
Bottom line: It’s a long way till 2016 and much too early to crown anybody their party’s nominee, especially Chris Christie. Yes, he has a certain colorful, superficial appeal. But, caveat emptor. Like many of the GOP primary candidates in 2012, the closer you look at Chris Christie, the less you find to like.
Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show.