Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Chris Christie Bubble

You can’t help but be impressed by the ubiquitous You-Tubes of Chris Christie telling some hapless public employee what’s what. Say what you will about him, but the guy’s got style. The fact that Ann Coulter is celebrating Christie’s political gifts just shows that he's movement conservatism’s flavor of the month. But you know that his stock as a national politician is rising when a purveyor of liberal conventional wisdom like Eleanor Clift is touting his authenticity:
“His refusal to join in [the lawsuits brought against ObamaCare by other states] suggests a degree of pragmatism that is attractive to non-true believers. This is a guy who has focused his message of change, and is clear about what he stands for. This is distinct from Obama's message of change, which meant different things to different people in 2008 and left almost everybody disappointed.”
I’m as impressed as the next guy by Christie’s political gifts. Yet, if I were putting bets down in the political marketplace, I’d be shorting his stock. Consider this astute observation from Ben Dworkin (quoted by Clift):
“The way to understand Christie, says Ben Dworkin, director of the Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, ‘is he has the leadership skills of a powerful prosecutor who happens to be governor. He argues his case in the press, and he stays on the attack constantly.’ As a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Christie never lost a corruption case, and there were plenty in a state best known for The Sopranos. His favorite phrase: ‘heads I win, tails you lose.’”
Sound familiar? Dworkin’s description of Christie fits Rudy Giuliani like a glove, but the similarities don’t end there. Christie's aspiring to something that Giuliani actually managed to pull off, viz., securing the reputation of being the guy who kept liberal profligacy from driving his city/state off a cliff. Moreover, they both combine a reputation for ruthlessly effective administration with a northeastern Republican’s social liberalism and impatience with the ideological rituals of movement conservatism.

This combination of political assets and liabilities didn’t take Giuliani very far as a national politician. And he enjoyed another asset beyond Christie’s reach; by the time he stepped onto the national political stage, 9/11 had already made Giuliani into “America’s mayor.” Why should Christie’s Giuliani-like virtues carry him any farther?


William said...

Maybe times have changed. The whole country is like NYC was when Giuliani was elected and like NJ is now. Nobody thought anybody like Giuliani or Christie could be elected in NYC and NJ a couple of years before they were elected. Couldn't that be true of the POTUS now?

Anonymous said...

I agree - times have changed. There is now more of a calling for a Christie-like Republican.

But I think he has to make a real difference in NJ that he can point to before he tries a national election. He has to make some real progress there first. Let's see how he does. If he can change NJ's fortunes around, he will be unstoppable on the national stage.

He has the political gift - no question about it.

John Wayne said...

David Frum had a recent blog post about the Christie "phenomenon," and the coming conservative backlash against him:

Chris Christie is not a Tea Party conservative. He’s a tough, budget-balancing Republican Northeastern governor with little interest in battles over the gold standard and abortion.


A left-wing friend of mine jokes that conservatives are “the party of affect”: meaning that conservatives tend to care much more how a politician speaks than what a candidate says. Christie almost perfectly exemplifies this rule. If he were a soft-spoken, conciliatory Northeastern budget-balancer, he’d be dismissed as a Bill Weld/Mike Castle RINO. But instead, he’s an-in-your-face confrontationalist. So he can favor handgun control and still be the Coulter choice for president. Just so long as he’s rude about it.

Christie is a non-untypical east coast governor. What conservatives respond to is his gift for drama: the very public "kicking ass and taking names." But his actual policies? Not so much.

Lone Wolf said...

I'm with RR and JW. I suspect Christie's tough talk against tax increases is crucially a function of the capital flight from NJ on account of its comparative disadvantage in tax rates to other states. But I bet he wouldn't rule out a budget deal at the federal level in advance that combined steep spending cuts with modest tax increases. That's disqualifying in today's Republican Party.