Despite Reelection, Christie Struggles to Endear Republicans

Social conservatives will think twice before nominating the outspoken governor of New Jersey.

New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie speaks in Hillsborough, March 2, 2011
New Jersey’s Republican governor Chris Christie speaks in Hillsborough, March 2, 2011 (Bob Jagendorf)

New Jersey’s recently reelected Republican governor Chris Christie is seen as a likely contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016. However, cultural differences within his party and a closer look at his record cast doubt on his ability to secure the nomination.

Christie’s commonsensical approach to government allowed him to win over 60 percent support in an election last week in a state that has voted for Democrats in presidential elections since 1988. Yet the very reason he appeals to centrist voters is why social conservatives mistrust him.

The outspoken governor is not one to give in easily on principe but has been willing and able to work with political opponents as well as teachers’ unions who were initially hostile to his efforts to weaken tenure. He opposes both abortion and gay marriage but allows exceptions for the former and refused to continue to fight marriage equalization on his state’s behalf once its supreme court had ruled in favor of it.

Christie might not be a liberal Republican but outside the Northeastern United States, conservatives will likely be inclined to see him that way. As columnist Pat Buchanan, himself once a Republican presidential contender, writes, “Chris Christie is not only from New Jersey; he is indelibly and proudly so.” Not since Tom Dewey in 1948 have Republicans nominated a presidential candidate from the Northeast. It has since become a party of the Far Western, Midwestern and Southern United States. What Buchanan describes as Christie’s “in your face” persona might not charm voters in those regions.

Moreover, Christie seems to have no coattails. Despite his triumph, he failed to make significant gains in the state House or state Senate, both of which remain solidly Democratic.

New Jerseyans like their governor but it hasn’t made them like his party any better.

Christie’s reputation as a budget cutter who restored growth to his state after years of Democratic overspending and mismanagement also doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. He did stave off an $11 billion deficit through spending cuts alone, capped property taxes, vetoed income tax increases and reformed pensions. But he has had less success curbing his state’s unemployment which, at 8.5 percent, is among the ten highest rates in the nation.

New Jersey is also still one of the heaviest taxed states in the union and Christie achieved a balanced budget in part by delaying almost $400 million in scheduled property tax rebates.

Other governors, like Texas’ Rick Perry — who was forced into an embarrassing retreat last time but is rumored to consider running for the nomination again — can point to genuine successes. His state is the second fastest growing, eclipsed only by gas booming North Dakota, and is expected to post an $8.8 billion budget surplus this year.

Christie did do relatively well with minority voters, groups that Republicans elsewhere struggle miserably to impress. Working class voters in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan as well as suburbanites there and in Virginia, constituencies that helped tip the last election’s balance in President Barack Obama’s favor, could also warm up to Christie — unless, polls show, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party’s candidate in 2016. But it will take a lot of persuasion for the rightwingers who are most likely to show up in the primaries to vote yet again for a suspected moderate who is clearly not one of them.

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