Saturday, December 27, 2014
Op-Ed: A Nomination For Christie Seems More Remote Than Ever
By Joshua Henne
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Gov. Chris Christie was flying high, fresh off a resounding re-election victory and poised to take over the Republican Governors Association. Today, Christie is surely not shedding a tear to see the calendar flip on 2014 — a year that brought brutal Bridgegate headlines and record credit downgrades to the state and finally exposed his distinct lack of accomplishment. Not to mention the looming specter of federal and legislative investigations.
But, it’s Jeb Bush’s recent Facebook proclamation that he’s actively exploring a presidential run that’s truly the cap to Christie’s political fall of Icarus-like proportions. The announcement by Florida’s former governor rips away the final shred of hope Christie had to magically thread the 2016 nomination needle. His sole pitch to voters, donors and pundits alike was that he’d be the only viable option out in the fields of Iowa who’d stand a chance in a general election. However, with an ever-diminishing pool of moderate Republican primary voters, Bush can easily bigfoot the competition.
Twice elected governor of America’s largest swing state, Bush’s tenure was, unlike Christie’s, mostly scandal-free. Moreover, Bush actually has executive accomplishments under his belt. In fairness, Christie has shepherded through a few items, such as bail reform and addiction treatment, but it’s not as though these issues send Republican voters rushing to the polls.
On matters of wider import – especially economic ones – Christie has been an abject failure. On his watch, New Jersey went the wrong way on mortgage foreclosures and consistently trails the nation/region when it comes to joblessness. The state suffers America’s second-lowest bond rating, and a record eighth credit downgrade came after Christie broke his own law by failing to fund the pension trust fund. This last move was particularly damaging. For years, Christie touted pension reform as his hallmark accomplishment, which was supposed to be his calling card to getting things done and working across the aisle. It’s not just that Christie lives up to the old cliché of saying one thing and doing another; worse, he’s said one thing and done absolutely nothing.
Despite selling himself as a tough-talking truth-teller who speaks his mind, in reality, Christie clams up on contentious questions. This past month alone, he’s refused to weigh in on the Keystone pipeline and the CIA torture report. Unlike other GOP likely contenders, Christie waited four full days to chime in on Cuba. On immigration, Bush clearly states his stance, detractors be damned. Conversely, Christie has ducked the issue, even while on a “trade mission” in Mexico.
Christie has burnished a reputation of everything always being about, well, Christie. In October 2011, he commanded the lectern for a 54-minute press conference to say he wasn't running for president. The following summer, he turned his Republican National Convention keynote into a long-winded exercise in self-promotion at Mitt Romney’s expense.
While these moves were rooted in vanity, more egregious is how Christie turned his back on his own party in his home state.
As beloved former Gov. Tom Kean said, the week after Christie’s re-election, “No governor I know in any state has won by 20 points and had no coattails.” Kean would know. In 1985, realizing he was waltzing to re-election, he devoted his post-Labor Day efforts to helping the down-ballot candidates. Flash forward to 2013, when Christie struck a deal with Democratic power brokers to keep their legislative seats safe. Then, this past year, while traipsing across America to raise money for candidates from Maine to the Midwest, Christie left New Jersey’s Republican State Committee in financial despair.
Christie has put his faith in wooing the well-heeled set who pony up the big bucks needed for a national campaign. Yet, the Bush dynasty enjoys longer, stronger, deeper ties to the very fund-raising base and campaign apparatus Christie would need to tap into. These relationships stretch back not only to Bush’s brother’s presidential campaign, but their father’s before that. Heck, Christie owes his own political career to parlaying prolific fund-raising for George W. Bush into a plum U.S. attorney post.
Major Republican donors look for return on investment. Does anyone believe they’ll bet on an undisciplined wild card with clouds over his head? Or will they back the man whose politics they like, whose family they know and who comes off as the adult in the room?
When given the chance to shine in front of deep-pocketed donors, Christie failed to impress. He embarrassed himself with naive answers on how he’d handle Vladimir Putin. He stumbled on Israel in front of Sheldon Adelson’s crowd in Las Vegas. As strong as he is on swagger, Christie comes across staggeringly light on substance.
Bush appeals to the growing Hispanic demographic, enjoys deeper donor ties and has a better, less scandalous gubernatorial record. Christie offers decision makers nothing more than a ticking time bomb in terms of both his temper and Bridgegate legal troubles, not to mention a history of not being a team player. It’s clear Christie’s final flicker of hope to catch even a whiff of the GOP nomination has been snuffed out. All that’s left is his face-saving decision not to run due to “family reasons” and to “finish the job” in New Jersey.
Joshua Henne is founder of White Horse Strategies. Follow @JoshuaHenne on Twitter.