Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Meet Chris Christie


Name: Chris Christie

Position: Governor of New Jersey

Party: Republican

Age: 50

Career arc

a. Political Science at The University of Delaware (1984).

b. Law School at Seton Hall (1987).

c. Worked at law firm, became partner (1993)

d. Elected to Morris County Board (1994)

e. Failed to win a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly (1995).

f. Lobbyist for law firm (1998-2001).

g. U.S. Attorney for New Jersey (2002-2008).

h. Governor of New Jersey (2009-current).

ON the ISSUES:

Abortion:

During his 2009 campaign, he called himself pro-life, but promised that he wouldn't "force that down people's throats" if elected governor. Where have we heard that before? Actually, from quite a few Democratic legislators.

Christie actually used to be "default pro-choice" until 1995 when he heard the heartbeat of his unborn child in his wife's womb.

"I heard that heartbeat, that's a life. It led me to have a real reflection on my position... I've been pro-life ever since."

It's easy to get cynical about conversions on abortion, but keep in mind that New Jersey is a tough place to be pro-life, and Christie's Damascus experience sounds quite genuine.

Another point in Christie's favor? He addressed an anti-abortion rally on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade -- a bold move in a socially liberal state.

Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, noted:

"I've spoken to Governor Christie about his conversion, and I believe it's authentic."

Guns:

He's no lover of them. He opposed the "right-to-carry reciprocity" that gun enthusiasts love. In the 2009 campaign, he complained that there was a "big handgun problem in New Jersey", and he's called his state's relatively draconian gun laws "very, very good."

Most notably, he railed against an incumbent Republican ticket in 1995 for wanting to repeal the state's ban on automatic assault weapons.

"It's dangerous, it's crazy, it's radical. They must be stopped. Say 'No' to Bucco and Carroll's radical plan to legalize assault weapons," one of the Christie campaign's flyers said.

Yet as with abortion, he seems to have moved further to the right the more national he's become. And once again,

Illegal Immigration:

When talking about winning the GOP nomination, this could be another problem area (although the party has moved quickly toward the middle, post November 6, 2012).

In 2008, he told a church forum:

"Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime.... the whole phrase of 'illegal immigrant' connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime.... don't let people make you believe that that's a crime that the U.S. Attorney's Office should be doing something about."

But he seemed to move to the Right in early 2012 when he took an apparent shot at Rick Perry's support for the DREAM Act.

"I do not believe that, for the people who came here illegally, that we should be subsidizing, with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition, their education.... that is not a heartless position."


RECORD:

There's quite a bit of debate over whether Christie is as good as people think.

Politifact notes that the unemployment rate has been even since Christie took office with 9.7%, 9.4%, and 9.8% in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively. The NJ Star-Ledger argues that Christie's tooting about an improving jobs situation is "mostly bunk."

Sure, he’s taken some constructive steps and we’ve seen a degree of improvement. Yet overall, during his time in office, New Jersey has been in poor shape relative to the nation, and nearby states like New York and Pennsylvania. We’ve limped behind in overall job creation. Our recovery has been much more sluggish; our unemployment rate significantly higher.

Public sector jobs have fallen slightly, while private sector jobs have remained roughly even since 2009. In short, New Jersey isn't an anthill right now.

GDP has increased since he took office. In 2009, it was -4.8%, it surged to 1.5% in 2010, but last year it fell to -0.5%. 

So on those three measures, Jersey isn't exactly soaring to life, even though residents are pleased with the state's progress and optimistic about its future.

Some conservatives don't like him, but only because they seem to hold him to the standard of a red state governor; not a red governor in a blue state (a job that's much more difficult).

Andrew McCarthy writes that Christie is a "cardboard cut-out northeastern GOP moderate of progressive taxation and the welfare state."

Further McCarthy and Bloomberg's leftish Josh Barro claim that Christie's balanced budgets come at the hands of familiar sorcery.

McCarthy:

To “balance” the budget (as the state constitution requires), Christie is doing what his spendaholic predecessors have done: He is pretending that he is not required to make the state’s full pension payment.

....He has skimped on more than $5 billion — money he is spending on government programs (or, as he puts it, “core services”). The pension bomb is kicked down the road, to explode on some future governor, who will have to make the tough choice Christie is ducking: pay the mounting debt, slash pension benefits, or drastically cut other spending.

For the bullish case on Christie's record, read Noah Glyn who points out one thing Republicans and centrists agree on -- Christie has done a bang-up job of reforming state workers' pensions and benefits; and has helped staunch the growth of government in the state (even the Star-Ledger acknowledges that the public sector had become far too big).

That alone is a feat requiring enormous skill, particularly in Jersey, particularly for a Republican, first-term governor.

Glyn, again:

He has proposed cutting income taxes 10 percent for all New Jersey citizens, and he was instrumental in capping property-tax increases at 2 percent per year. Christie recently vetoed a health-insurance exchange mandated under Obamacare.

He cut funding for Planned Parenthood and vetoed a gay-marriage bill. And if that wasn’t enough, Christie also pushed for school choice for New Jersey families.

UPSHOT: Look, Christie isn't a Tom Cole-conservative, and never will be.

But Tom Cole, it's safe to say, wouldn't regularly score approval ratings over 50% in New Jersey.

And, really, Christie has done something for conservatives than Tom Cole could never do -- he's had a national, public spat with teachers unions and won. That's emboldened conservative governors everywhere. If there's no Chris Christie, there's might be no Scott Walker.


SPOUSE: Mary Pat Christie (married 24 years).


Their "AWWWWWWW" story:

When they were attending the University of Delaware, Christie asked Mary Pat Foster to run as secretary on his ticket for student body president. They won, started dating, and married two years later.

Foster comes from a family of 10 kids, so she knows her way around (I have no idea what that means; it just sounds like something you'd say about growing up in a family with ten kids).

Michelle Cottle thinks the First Lady could contribute significantly on the campaign trail, writing:

"She's got that devoted-mom thing down cold."

But she's also more than just a devoted mom (although that's more than enough) -- she picked up an MBA at Seton Hall University, works as a director at a financial services firm, and seems to be pretty good at it. In 2010, she brought home over $500K worth of bacon for the family.

If Christie does run, expect his wife to play a big role in his campaign -- possibly, similar to the one she's played in statewide elections.

During Christie's gubernatorial run.... she was backstage, actively participating in staff meetings, conference calls and strategy sessions.

She also was in charge of fundraising -- working the phones and her own business Rolodex and putting together events to raise money for Christie’s campaign.

As governor, Christie has openly talked about his wife’s influence on his decisions.

More recently, she decided to start and helm a Hurricane Sandy relief effort that's generated over $16 million in donations.



WHY CHRISTE COULD WIN:

The 2012 primary was all about the debates and money. Christie could do very well on both scores.

Given a 90 or 120 minute debate, he'd have plenty of time to deliver a huge, unscripted moment that could change the face of the race and weaken conservative resistance to him.

Now what happens if you give him twenty debates to do that? That's certainly enough time for him to take control of a race or waltz into the good graces of conservatives again.

Those good graces, of course, have been taxed terribly ever since his Obama Hug, and he hasn't exactly been solicitous of them ever since, absolutely ripping John Boehner and the House Republicans and dinging the NRA, as well.

Voters are a forgiving lot, but the Obama hug couldn't have come at a worse time, so this was no ordinary compliment. As Charles Krauthammer said, it was a campaign ad for Obama that the president "couldn't have purchased with $10 million" and it came one week before the election.

And the timing of his latest Republican rips have been awful, as well. They're not just ordinary "soul-searching" comments. They've come at times when conservatives were having the fights of their lives (tax cuts and guns).

Just unbelievable.

But this is supposed to be the bullish case for Christie, so here's why that might not all matter.

Once Christie wins reelection in New Jersey, he should have plenty of time to repair his image with conservatives. In fact, he could turn even more conservative in his second term without worrying about reelection, and take some bold stand that -- along with a strong primary -- can repair his image.

Once you actually hit the primary, Christie -- as I said -- can dominate the headlines without a headline. In other words, his free, unearned media would be off-the-charts, and likely, pretty positive. If there's ever a time to zing, it's in a primary -- an environment that indulges and feeds off zingers.

And the idea that Christie's abrasiveness would turn off women is mostly hooey. He actually scores quite respectably among women, and in New Jersey, of all places.

Now let's get to the second part -- fundraising. If Christie had run in 2012, he would have raised as much or even more than Romney. There are plenty of GOP powerbrokers desperate for a win and pining after Christie's ability to command the center. If you combine that with a few lights out moments in debates to woo the base -- well, all the better for Christie, who -- at one time (2009-2011) -- could have also generated massive grassroots, small dollar donations.

In short, Christie could win the debates, inevitably earn the most free media, and raise more money than anyone else in the field.

That's a recipe for winning the nomination.


WHY CHRISTIE CAN'T WIN:

Read paragraphs 3-5 of "Why Christie could win" to understand why he couldn't.

Here they are, in case you're a skimmer, and missed them.

"Voters are a forgiving lot, but the Obama hug couldn't have come at a worse time, so this was no ordinary compliment. As Charles Krauthammer said, it was a campaign ad for Obama that the president "couldn't have purchased with $10 million" and it came one week before the election.

And the timing of his latest Republican rips have been awful, as well. They're not just ordinary "soul-searching" comments. They've come at times when conservatives were having the fights of their lives (tax cuts and guns)."

There's a point at which a politician permanently damages himself, and Christie is flirting with that point and it's easily to see him crossing the line irrevocably in his reelection bid.

After all, he's running in New Jersey and might be running against a very liberal, Barbara Buono, who will undoubtedly make social issues a huge part of her campaign. If she's able to shift the debate into one over social issues, you could easily imagine a defensive Christie saying something he might massively regret for a 2016 presidential primary.

In short, Christie really can't start pivoting to the right until he's won reelection and by then, plenty of his potential GOP opponents will have been scoring favor with conservatives the whole time.

Then there's the fact that Christie could destroy himself in a GOP primary.

At some point, you can easily imagine him shifting into Bluntsville to fend off conservative attacks on his credentials. And Bluntsville could easily morph from a "Base, this is why I did it" to "This is why I did it, and screw you, base, if you don't like it." The media would ache for that kind of drama, Christie would feed off the attention, and then there'd be all sorts of talk about the party being too Right for even.Chris.Christie, and he'd be doomed, and people would ask him a bout a third party candidacy (and he'd probably indulge that, too).

It's very easy to see how his entire bid could unwind after something like that, and in a long primary, there'll be ample time for him to hang himself -- just as there could be ample time for him to acquit himself.

One more problem for Christie?

He's going to face some withering grassroots criticism over his actual record, which isn't nearly as red as you might first think, and old positions on abortion and guns completely defy the base and mar his conservative credentials.

When you couple that with a 2012-2014 that might be spent running from the base for Jersey purposes, you start to wonder how Christie could possibly win.

Really, there's a terrific case to be made for the idea he can and can't win. Which is probably as it should be, considering this is Chris Christie.