Even before the polls closed in New Jersey on Tuesday night, the national media had already begun publishing articles that essentially launched Governor Chris Christie’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The media looking towards the next presidential election before the ink in the little ovals on the ballots dries in the current election is not a new phenomenon, but it does reflect on just how obsessed Americans have become with presidential politics. President Obama had not even won re-election yet, and some national political pundits were already sizing up the 2016 presidential field. The urge to look ahead to the next presidential contests wouldn’t start so early if there weren’t demand from the people for such articles.
Governor Christie’s re-election in New Jersey was impressive as he garnered over 60 percent of the vote in a Democratic state. However, his wide appeal to voters in New Jersey and the national media’s fondness of the out-spoken New Jersey governor does not make him a lock for the Republican nomination in 2016.
This isn’t the first time the media has crowned a widely popular east-coast politician the frontrunner years in advance of the next presidential campaign. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani led in most national polls years before his 2008 presidential run, and like Governor Christie, Giuliani was also viewed as someone who could unite people of both political parties after his handling of a national catastrophe.
The problem for Giuliani was that his presidential campaign could never validate his performance in the national polls. All of the attention he received from the national media helped him perform well in national polls, but the nomination process doesn’t have anything to do with how well liked a candidate may be nationally, what matters is how they perform state by state. That’s especially important in the early nominating states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and Florida.
For Christie to be successful in 2016, he’s going to need an aggressive campaign, and he’ll need to follow some of his own advice. In his victory speech, Christie said, “And while we may not always agree, we show up everywhere. We just don’t show up in the places that vote for us a lot, we show up in the places that vote for us a little. We don’t just show up in the places where we’re comfortable, we show up in the places where we’re uncomfortable.”
That is the exact mindset that Christie will need should be decide to run for president in 2016, but oddly enough it’s not approach that Christie’s main political guru, Mike DuHaime, used when he piloted Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Unfortunately for Giuliani, his campaign adopted a strategy of retreat in the early states and never really put up much of a challenge before Giuliani dropped out of the race and endorsed John McCain.
In evaluating Christie as a likely 2016 presidential candidate, his impressive 2013 re-election does separate him from previous blue-state Republican governors with presidential aspirations who opted not to stand for re-election before running for president. Mitt Romney didn’t seek re-election in Massachusetts before running for president in 2008, nor did former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty before his 2012 presidential campaign.
By winning re-election on Tuesday, Christie proved that getting elected governor of New Jersey in 2009 wasn’t a fluke. Even though holding office while running for president presents some limitations, it also brings with it a number of advantages. First and foremost, being a sitting governor will allow Christie to demonstrate his leadership ability and governing style. Secondly, Christie will be able use his role as the head of the Republican Governor’s Association to build a national fundraising network while also allowing him to travel and help Republican gubernatorial candidates across the county in 2014.
As a politician, Christie is as gifted as they come. He doesn’t have the celebrity that Giuliani had before he ran for president in 2008, but Christie is hands down a better politician. Christie has the ability to silence a room when he speaks. He’s able to get an entire audience to hang on his every word. It’s a trait that the great politicians have and use to their advantage. Regardless of how you feel about his policy decisions, Christie comes off as a likeable, no-nonsense kind of guy you would like to sit down and have a beer with.
The idea of Christie running for president should not be a surprise to anyone, but the media’s desire to anoint him the frontrunner for the 2016 Republican nomination is a bit pre-mature. While Christie possesses many of the attributes that make up a good national candidate and his re-election campaign was a resounding success, that doesn’t mean that 2016 is going to be a cakewalk.
For Christie to win the Republican nomination in 2016, he will have to connect with conservative voters in places like Iowa, South Carolina, and much of the south. He won his re-election campaign in New Jersey by doing his best to avoid controversial topics such as abortion and gay marriage. That is something that’s impossible to do in a presidential campaign. Not only will the media make these issues a topic in the campaign, but so will activists who are passionate about these causes.
Every political move that Christie made in 2013 made a lot of sense for a Republican governor trying to get re-elected in a blue state like New Jersey, but those things didn’t necessarily help him with attracting support among conservative voters who he will need to win over to get the Republican presidential nomination. While everything he did in 2013 helped him win over independents, females, and other voting blocs, many of his actions may have hurt his presidential ambitions.
In his speech on Tuesday night, Christie said, “What people have told me over the last four years is that more than anything else, they want the truth. They want the truth. You know, we don’t always agree with each other in New Jersey. Some folks don’t agree with some of the things I do, and certainly they don’t agree with some of the things I say sometimes. But they know, they know they never have to wonder. When they walked into the voting booth today, they didn’t say, hey I wonder who this guy is and what he stands for, what he’s willing to fight for, what he’s willing to do when the chips are down.”
That might be the case in New Jersey, but not in a state like Iowa. On issues like gun control, immigration reform, and gay marriage, plenty of activists wonder where Christie really stands on those issues. This fall, Christie signed into law a number of gun control measures, but he also vetoed others. When it comes to the Second Amendment, one can’t say for sure where the New Jersey governor stands. When asked about Christie’s record on the Second Amendment Andrew Arulanandam of the NRA told the Washington Times, “We are pleased that he vetoed a number of bad legislative proposals last week. However, we are disappointed that he signed some bad bills into law prior.”
The same is true on gay marriage. On one hand, Christie once vetoed a bill that would legalize gay marriage. Yet when it became apparent that the New Jersey Supreme Court was about to overrule his appeal that basically blocked homosexuals from getting married in his state, he withdrew his legal challenge to the measure. The media saw Christie’s action in this matter as pragmatic, but social conservatives saw it as something else.
Brian Brown, the head of the National Organization for Marriage, told Politico recently, “It’s definitely not a profile in courage.” For a lot of people, the issue of gay marriage is not a political issue, it’s is a fundamental religious issue. Giving up the fight on a religious issue because it became clear that you might lose a legal challenge will not endear a person to social conservatives. In fact, it’s just another issue for which voters now question where he’s really at.
Christie has also flip-flopped on the issue of immigration this year. Like a lot of conservatives, Christie opposed the federal Dream Act, but he switched his position during his re-election campaign. In a speech to a Latino group, Christie said, “We need to get to work in the state Legislature on things like making sure that there’s tuition equality for everybody in New Jersey.” The next day he reiterated his position when he told his Democrat opponent in a debate that he supports the Tuition Equality Act, a bill that would help make higher education affordable to students living here illegally.
Those might be three insignificant issues in a New Jersey gubernatorial campaign, but they are major issues in a presidential primary, and not just in Iowa either. The national media coverage of Christie’s re-election win on Tuesday seems to suggest that the avoidance of divisive issues is what makes him the most electable Republican for the 2016 presidential race.
It is impossible to avoid these issues in a national campaign. No matter how hard Mitt Romney tried, he still had to answer questions about all the topics his campaign worked so hard to avoid. The same will be true for Chris Christie.
Christie won big on Tuesday night, but I wouldn’t be so quick to put him at the front of the 2016 presidential class. What helped him win re-election in New Jersey will likely hurt him in a presidential primary. As we have seen with other presidential candidates, it’s not always the positions that one takes in a campaign that haunts you, it’s your evolving positions on core issues that give’s voters heartburn.
Governor Christie might want to bring some antacids with him when he comes to Iowa as there are many voters who wonder who this guy from New Jersey is and what he stands for, what he’s willing to fight for, and what he’s willing to do when the chips are down.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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