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article imageOp-Ed: Why NJ Governor Chris Christie won't be our next President

By Bill Lewis     Jan 21, 2014 in Politics
Chris Christie is undoubtedly one of the main contenders for the Republican nomination to run for President in 2016; however, given recent events and his already moderate stances he is unlikely to be our next President.
Unless you have not picked up a newspaper or turned on a news program in the last several weeks you have likely heard about the scandal now being called “Bridgegate” by many. If you haven’t, I suggest reading Elizabeth Titus’ piece in Politico that does a great job of explaining it in detail. For those who might not want to read it, the basic gist of the story is that some of New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie’s closest advisors were involved in closing two of three access lanes onto The George Washington Bridge in Ft. Lee, NJ as a form of political retribution; and his own involvement or knowledge of the events are still in question. Beyond the expected negative attention this would bring to any Governor, Christie is facing even greater scrutiny because of his obvious desire to make a bid for Presidency in 2016. What would likely be a low-level scandal that would be forgotten after a short time has turned into a feeding frenzy for Christie’s political opponents and has stirred up questions regarding how fit he is to hold the most powerful office in the world.
Depending on who you ask, Bridgegate — and accusations of political bullying that have emerged since — is either a deathblow to Christie’s Presidential ambitions, a tiny bump in his road to the White House, or a non-factor in what would have been a failed bid for a Republican nomination. Which of these is correct is a harder question that requires closely analyzing who Chris Christie is and the larger picture of his political career.
From a straight talker to a bully:
The scandal surrounding the traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge and new accusations that Christie withheld Superstorm Sandy relief aid from the town of Hoboken in retribution for the Mayor, Dawn Zimmer (D) not going along with a development project Christie supported alone would be incredibly damaging to any campaign; however, in the case of Chris Christie the picture they are beginning to paint of him as a bully could be even more damaging.
Christie has always been known as a straight talker who is more than willing to get in his opponents' faces if need be; in fact, it is one of the things that many people like about him. However, there is a fine line between being a bit brash and being a bully; and it is a line that recently seems to have been crossed in the eyes of much of the public. According to a Pew Research Center poll Christie has seen a 17 point increase in his unfavorable rating — a massive spike — since the bridge scandal story went mainstream; likely due to the fact that the majority of people (58 percent) do not believe that Christie was unaware of what was occurring. In addition to the bad press over the scandal itself hurting Christie, previous behavior that is now being dug up and hashed over by the national media is also adding to the image of a bully.
Hunter Walker of Talking Points Memo traced the first accusations of political bullying leveled at Chris Christie back to his days at the University of Delaware:
TPM has found one of the first times the brash political brawler faced such claims was in the mid-1980s when he was an undergrad at the University of Delaware.
There, student newspaper archives show, Christie was accused of establishing a college political machine that rewarded his friends and drove his classmates out of student government. One fellow student even wrote to the paper to decry Christie's "cronyism" and question the legitimacy of the future governor's reign.
As the New York Times Kate Zernike reports, Governor Christie’s political tactics did not change after college. In fact, accusations of political retribution become commonplace in the Christie administration; ranging from things as serious as removing a former Governor’ police protection to things as petty as writing a letter to accost a person who made comments against his administration. While Christie has denied these allegations they begin to paint a picture of a man who is willing to use the powers of his office to persecute those who challenge him or lean on those who disobey him. Whether this is an accurate picture — and the sheer number of accusations seems to indicate at least some truth — or not, the public perception is shifting in a way that is not good for Christie’s Presidential ambitions.
An unlikely choice for the GOP:
The common wisdom amongst many in the Beltway press has been that Chris Christie was the frontrunner for the Republican Nomination prior to Bridgegate; however, I tend to agree more with Charlie Cook of the National Journal who wrote:
I . . . have a problem with the recent story line: “The front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is hit with a scandal.” Christie, the front-runner? Again—really? Christie indeed sat at the top of some of the polls that lay out a long laundry list of every imaginable contender (as well as some who are harder to imagine), but does that make him the front-runner? I think not.
Think for a moment who makes up the Republican Party, and most specifically the part of the GOP base that dominates the presidential nomination process. Think about the people they seriously considered for their party’s presidential nomination last time around. Think Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich. Now, quickly, think Christie. Now think Sesame Street: “One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn’t belong.” It’s laughable that the party that has previously seriously considered some fairly inconceivable candidates as worthy of the GOP nomination would suddenly reverse course and head over to a center-right candidate such as Christie.
Yes, it is true that according to many odds makers Christie had a large lead on his opponents prior to the scandal — and is still tied for the lead — however, it must be noted that he has not yet faced the scrutiny of the most conservative of voters; which also happen to be the ones that are most likely to vote in a primary.
A quick look at Chris Christie's stated policies gives major pause to the idea that the conservative arm of the Republican Party (and especially the Tea Party movement) will accept him.
Gay Rights: While he is against equal marriage rights for the LGBT community he has repeatedly refused to call homosexuality a sin and has in fact said he would accept his son even if he was a homosexual. While I would like to believe that the majority of the Republican Party feels this same way the far right certainly does not. Christie’s largest challenger Marco Rubio, meanwhile, has been speaking at anti-gay rallies and openly courting the conservative vote on this issue. One of the biggest indictments conservatives will level against Christie on this issue is his decision to drop an appeal to the court’s decision legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey. Many conservative activists accused Christie of giving up too easily; and you can be sure that Rubio and other contenders will be sure to bring this fact up during the primaries.
Abortion: Chris Christie has been against abortion since 1995 and no one can challenge him on that fact. Before that point he was pro-choice, however, he stated that his position changed “[after] seeing [my] daughter pre-natally And we heard this incredibly strong heartbeat. And I remember we came separately. And I was driving back to work, I said to myself, you know, as to my position on abortion, I would say that a week ago that wasn't a life. And I heard that heartbeat.” The issue that he will face among conservative voters, however, is that while he is certainly pro-choice he is not vehemently anti-abortion. First of all, he supports exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or risk to the life of the mother; something that many if not most on the far right strongly oppose. Additionally, while he stripped funding for Planned Parenthood from the state budget, that is about the end of his activities that could be seen as anti-abortion. Contrarily all of his likely opponents are clearly anti-abortion; Marco Rubio for example, “said unequivocally . . . that he hopes to be the lead sponsor of a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks,” in July of 2013.
Guns: The far right wing of the Republican Party loves their guns and despises anyone who attempts to curtail their right to have them — no matter how logical the laws they might try to pass may be — and Chris Christie has done just that several times. Although, Christie did recently veto some gun control legislation his motives have been called into question and his previous gun control actions are being referred to as “extreme” by many conservatives. The issue here is that Chris Christie is a clear moderate on gun issues; he believes in the right to gun ownership and believes that we should focus on violence control, not gun control; however, he also supports some gun control. A conversation he had with Sean Hannity in 2009 states it best:
Hannity: Are there any issues where you are moderate to left as a Republican?
Christie: I favor some of the gun-control measures we have in NJ.
Hannity: Bad idea.
Christie: We have a densely populated state, and there's a big handgun problem in NJ. On certain gun control issues, looking at it from a law-enforcement perspective, seeing how many police officers were killed, we have an illegal gun problem in NJ.
Hannity: Should every citizen in your state be allowed to get a licensed weapon if they want one?
Christie: In NJ, that's not going to happen.
Hannity: Why?
Christie: With the Democratic legislature we have, there's no way those type of things--
Hannity: Would you support it?
Christie: What I support are commonsense laws that will allow people to protect themselves, but I also am very concerned about the safety of our police officers on the streets, very concerned. And I want to make sure that we don't have an abundance of guns out there"
This is in direct opposition to the conservative movement of late that has pushed for an end to a ban on plastic guns, opposed background checks, and fought to recall state legislators in Colorado who passed common sense laws after the theater shooting in Aurora.
Willingness to work with Obama: While this is technically not a campaign issue it is certainly an issue for extreme conservatives within the Republican Party. After Superstorm Sandy Christie showed willingness to work with, and praise, President Obama that many conservatives still believe helped Obama win in the 2012 election. While nationally this might actually be a boon — most Americans would like to see bipartisanship if it would bring about action — however, in a primary that is overwhelmingly controlled by the most conservative members of the party it is a negative.
Overall Christie is a moderate through and through. While he holds some conservative stances he is open to all arguments and is pragmatic in is implementation of laws (as with his unwillingness to spend state money fighting the court’s ruling on gay marriage). While this would certainly give him an edge in a general election — where moderates outnumber the extremes on both sides of the aisle — in a primary you have to be able to speak to the base of the party; and that is something Christie simply cannot do at the same level that candidates like Marco Rubio or Rand Paul can. The fact is that prior to Bridgegate many Democrats would have considered voting for Christie (and many others still would); which is the very reason most conservatives will not.
A long shot in the General Election:
Even if Christie were to get the nomination, it is unlikely that he would be able to beat the presumptive nominee on the Democratic side. While it is still very early, it is a fairly safe bet to say that Hillary Clinton will be the next nominee for the Democratic Party where odds makers currently give her 11 to 10 odds of winning. In a national election those same odds makers give her a 2 to 1 chance of winning the national election regardless who she faces. For Christie this is especially problematic because the very voters that might put him over the top — moderate liberals — are among the staunchest supporters of Clinton.
Beyond the huge amount of support and momentum Clinton has going into the election already, Christie faces issues with his politics on the national stage. The very issues that might give him problems in a primary actually give him the same problems in a national election, but for different reasons.
On abortion he faces a major problem with women because one of the few stances he did take while governor was to end funding to Planned Parenthood; which provides much-needed healthcare to low income families and which has a high level of support among women. If he is facing Clinton, he already has an uphill battle for the women’s vote and this simply makes it harder. You cannot win an election in this country without a significant portion of the women’s vote; and while Christie is likely to get more of it than any of the other Republican contenders he is going to have a hard time getting enough to win.
On the issue of LGBT rights Christie has been on the wrong side of the issues to gain any support in a national election. Granted, if he gets past the primary the far right will rally behind him on this because he is at least openly against gay marriage; however, when you consider that according to one poll 36 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage and 58 percent support it, it becomes clear that this is an untenable position. Being anti-gay still works in deep red states and in primaries; however, on a national level people are finally starting to get on the right side of history and are looking for politicians that are doing the same.
On the issue of gun control Christie might be okay; but it is hard to tell. He has passed some common sense legislation that most moderates are going to be very happy with, however, he also vetoed a ban on .50 caliber rifles which many moderates are likely to not understand. This one is up in the air and it will likely come down to how he talks about it during the election; and you can be sure that it will come up.
One of the biggest hurdles he will have if he does face Clinton is his lack of any kind of foreign policy experience. Clinton was Secretary of State for four years and during that time was very effective in dealing with our allies and enemies alike. No matter what you might think about her policies, the fact is that she has the credentials and Christie does not. Some would argue that this actually gives him ammunition, because of some of the issues she faced (Benghazi, Wikileaks, Snowden, etc); however, she walked away from all of those things relatively unscathed and with a strong base of support.
As of this writing we have 1024 days until the 2016 Presidential election; which means a lot of time for things to change. It is entirely possible that over the course of that time Christie will be able to shore up his conservative bonafides or that the other candidates will have something occur that eliminates them from the race; in fact, it is almost certain that there will be a lot of candidate shuffling between now and Election Day. However, as it stands now Christie faces a major uphill climb if he is to accomplish his goal of being our next President.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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