Retail Politics And The Appeal Of Chris Christie

Looking at Chris Christie as he interacts with voters in New Jersey offers a glimpse of just how he could succeed in a 2016 GOP nomination fight.

Chris-Christie-Hurricane-Sandy

As we marked the first anniversary of the impact of Superstorm Sandy, the worst storm to hit New Jersey in modern memory if not the state’s entire history, there was much obligatory discussion of the role that New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie took during that crisis, the impact it had on the way residents of the state, and what it might mean for his political future going forward. Part of that discussion has been prompted by this video of an appearance by Governor Christie in Sea Bright, New Jersey, one of the shore communities that was hit hard by the storm and is only now beginning to recover. The video is just over six minutes long, but it’s worth watching because it demonstrates something that has been part of Christie’s repertoire since he first ran for Governor, his ability to connect with people even while acting in a manner that many political consultants would consider to be incorrect for someone seeking higher office:

Perhaps if you didn’t grow up in New Jersey you won’t feel the same way, but, policy issues aside, it strikes me that there’s a certain something about Christie here, and in other contexts that could be potentially appealing if he does decide to run for President three years from now. While some may dismiss him as too pugnacious and outspoken, it’s also possible that voters, especially voters in Republican primary contests, could also see this quite differently. They could see it as a sign of leadership, which is quite honestly something that has been sadly lacking in recent Presidential candidates, especially on the Republican side. Say what you will about them, but neither Mitt Romney not John McCain managed to come across as particularly strong leaders during their respective campaigns. As for President Obama, he managed to project an image of leadership during his campaigns in 2008 and 2012, but his time in office has often been marked by what even sympathetic observers have described as a kind of detachment that results in things like budget negotiations on Capitol Hill spinning out of control because of Presidential non-involvement. Indeed, even his signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, was largely the result of Capitol Hill negotiation rather than the kind of Oval Office leadership that Presidents like LBJ and Reagan displayed during their Presidency. Christie, arguably, would have the advantage of both a campaign style that evokes leadership and a record that demonstrates it, thanks to things like the role he took in the wake of Sandy and the manner in which he’s worked with a Democratic legislature to push through much needed reforms to state government.

Chris Cillizza puts it this way:

No one has had a better 2013. The only question for Christie is whether the power center of the party has moved so far toward the tea party that he simply cannot be its choice due to his focus on pragmatism over principle and winning over all else.

Part of the answer to that question, of course, is that the Tea Party isn’t the sole force inside the GOP, and is hardly in a position to be decisive when it comes to picking a 2016 nominee. Yes, Christie is likely to have problems in states like Iowa and South Carolina, both of which are far more socially conservative than he tends to be, at least in practice, and the same goes for other parts of the South like Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Georgia. However, it’s worth noting that Mitt Romney failed to win all three of those states and still managed to easily win the nomination and that the manner in which the GOP allocates convention delegates is likely to favor a candidate like Christie more than it will favor someone like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, should they choose to run. Additionally, most GOP primaries are open primaries, meaning that independents are able to participate, and that’s likely to be a voting cohort that will be favorable to Christie (in recent polling in New Jersey he’s getting as much as 80% of the Independent vote). So, as long as voters don’t find his style off-putting, Christie could end up being in a far better position than many conservatives seem to believe.

The video prompted Allahpundit to make this observation:

Most righties aren’t going to vote for him no matter how good his retail skills are. Centristsare going to vote for him no matter how good his retail skills are, partly because of his “reasonableness” on issues like in-state tuition for illegals but mostly because of Tuesday night’s results. Question: How much will Christie’s retail skills matter to the people in the middle (the “somewhat conservative”) who typically decide the nomination? Philip Klein of the Examiner and Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard tweeted in response to the clip that Christie’s New York/New Jersey shtick wears awfully thin very quickly in other parts of the country, which could mean disaster in Iowa and New Hampshire. But there’s no way around the fact that Christie will have sterling “electability” credentials in 2016, such that even people who may find him irritating will force themselves to give him a serious look. It may even be that “somewhat conservative” voters talk themselves into liking his shtickbecause of his electability; if he can convince you that he’s your best chance to win, you’ll find yourself looking for ways to find him acceptable in other respects. He is, undoubtedly, a stark contrast with Hillary Clinton, who’s 1/100th as effective a retail politician as Bill is. Which is to say, maybe there’s no way to draw conclusions from this clip without the spotlight of a campaign shining down on it. If Christie starts to look appealing for other reasons, his “Christieness” will be seen as lovably pugnacious by fencesitters. If he starts to look less appealing due to ideological heresies, it’ll just seem abrasive and a curio from a gubernatorial campaign that was more about post-storm Jersey solidarity than anything national voters would care about.

These are all fair points, of course, and the conservative criticism of Christie is likely to be fierce if he does run. Nonetheless, I would suggest that the video above, along with much of everything else we’ve seen from Christie since 2009 shows that he very well could brush aside that criticism very easily and, in a sense, go over the heads of his critics to the voters, most of whom are likely to care more about jobs, the economy, and yes, leadership of a nation that has suffered through more than a decade of partisan bickering and economic malaise than they are about things like abortion, gay marriage, or whether Christie appointed a Muslim to be a trial court judge in Passaic County during his first term in office. If that happens, it will be because of the Chris Christie you see in that video.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2013, Campaign 2016, Politics 101, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. beth says:

    I have childhood friends from NJ who are now teachers, firefighters and police officers in NJ. They post anti-Christie screeds on their Facebook pages yet are planning to vote for him. It’s weird. Buono’s a weak candidate compared to the bombastic Christie and he’s charmed a lot of people with his behavior after Sandy. I’m not sure casual political observers are all that focused on the budgetary financial shenanigans Christie’s pulled in NJ. However, I don’t think for a moment that any of this would translate to a win over Hilary Clinton in a presidential election. I think there’s a good chance Christie couldn’t carry NJ, especially if he is forced to go through a grueling primary where he’ll have to tack far right in order to win.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Unlike most of the modern Republican party he seems to actually be interested in governing as opposed to the teahardists that are interested primarily in throwing bombs, starting fires and destroying the government. This is why he might actually be able to win the general election but there is no way he could win the Republican primary.

  3. mattbernius says:

    @beth:

    if he is forced to go through a grueling primary where he’ll have to tack far right in order to win.

    And that is the KEY challenge right there. To be a credible challenger, Christie can’t tack too far to the right (in other words remain to some degree a Rockerfeller Republican). Otherwise it’s hard to see how he doesn’t end up like Romney and McCain before him — pulling out all the stops to win the primaries and at the same time setting himself behind in the general.

    That said, if Christie is bold enough to run on his record and not tack much further to the right, he could be a tough candidate (assuming he can win the nominations in a slower slog). That said, the longer the primary slog, the more damage will have been done to him by his own side.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Mitt Romney, famous bullyer of gay kids, apparently think Christie is funny.

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/11/mitt-romney-laughed-at-chris-christies-weight.html

  5. al-Ameda says:

    @beth:

    I have childhood friends from NJ who are now teachers, firefighters and police officers in NJ. They post anti-Christie screeds on their Facebook pages yet are planning to vote for him. It’s weird.

    I think what happened is that when the chips were down – when a genuine crisis occurred, Hurricane Sandy – Christie did what a governor is supposed to do, he governed effectively. He and the president coordinated to get the resources necessary to get New Jersey through the disaster and into the recovery phase. All the partisan bulls*** was put aside and the people of NJ were well-served during a most difficult period.

    I could be overestimating the effect of good governance here, but that’s my opinion on Christie.

  6. jukeboxgrad says:

    there is no way he could win the Republican primary

    It’s that simple.

    And the more the dreaded Establishment talks (correctly) about his ‘electability,’ the more the base will hate him. The dynamic with Cruz will be the exact opposite.

    The GOP base is nuttier than ever, and they are ready to march over the cliff together.

  7. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I think that Christie (assuming he gets out of the primaries) would do quite well against a non-Hillary Democratic coastal elite, such as Andrew Cuomo. If you’ve got two coastal elite types going up against each other, then it become anyone’s game.

    However, I think Christie would have a hard time going up against Hilary. She’s really in a unique position after the 2008 campaign and the Secretary of State gig. She’s lived her life in the DC Press’s spotlight since the 1992 campaign, what new dirt can there be to dig up? Pretty much everyone who was a likely 2008 voter knows exactly what they think of Hillary already.

  8. Ron Beasley says:

    And we have this: Non-Tea Party Republicans are breaking from the GOP

    Our NBC/WSJ poll has shown that fewer respondents are identifying as Republicans. So who is leaving? Well, one set of numbers gives us a big clue. In a three-way generic congressional contest, the Democrat gets 35%, the third-party/independent candidate gets 30%, and the Republican candidate gets 28%. You might think that it’s Tea Party Republicans who are siding with the third-party/independent candidate. But you’d be wrong. The third-party support is coming mostly from self-identified independents and NON-Tea Party Republicans. In other words, it’s the NON-Tea Party folks who are splitting from the GOP. Here’s the data:

    This is not new. In the early 2000s most of the descendants of Eisenhower had left the Republican Party. By 2004 many of the descendants of Barry Goldwater had done the same. In 2008 one of the Nixon daughters was actively campaigning for Obama. The Republican party is in a death spiral which is sad for this country.

  9. edmondo says:

    It’s so cute when Doug falls in love with a politician. He fantasizes all kinds of possibilities, even the totally ridiculous.

  10. edmondo says:

    @beth:

    Buono’s a weak candidate compared to the bombastic Christie

    Actually Barbara Buono is a weak candidate compared to George McGovern. She’s inept. The handwriting was on the wall when she had to thumb through the White Pages to find a running mate. My God, I can’t stand Christie and I won’t even vote for her. If she loses by less than 30 points it will be a miracle.

  11. Scott says:

    Of course, the Tea Party has driven the standards for a credible candidate so low that everybody swoons over somebody who shows even a tiny bit of reason or ability to govern regardless of their positions on issues.

  12. Stonetools says:

    Christie in 2016 will get no further than Guliani did in 2008, and for the same reasons.

  13. Keith Boyea says:

    I thought that video was a little goosebumpy, sort of like Obama was pre-2008. I think his record in NJ will get a thorough review if he runs and some may find a lot of distaste. But as republicans go these days, he’s everything that’s been said above: pragmatic and interested in actual governance.

    I do think that republicans are going to be uber-desperate to prevent Hillary from becoming president. That will be the driving principle behind much of the party. If Christie can be the option that can beat Hillary? They’ll support him.

  14. Todd says:

    @mattbernius:

    if Christie is bold enough to run on his record and not tack much further to the right, he could be a tough candidate

    Even though I’m not blind to the fact that Chris Christie is almost certainly more conservative than his “image”, I can still honestly say that I’m amenable to the possibility of casting my vote for him in 2016 were he the Republican nominee.

    However …

    Even if he was to avoid tacking too far to the right during the primary, if it looked likely that one, or especially if both houses of congress would be controlled by the Republicans, my vote would be lost.

    This is a choice that I’ll be very unlikely to have to make though.

    Rand Paul is going to be the Republican nominee.

    … and I think it will be a very interesting general election race.

  15. Ron Beasley says:

    @Todd:

    Rand Paul is going to be the Republican nominee.

    I suspect you are right. Ted (Raphael) Cruz will flame out long before 2016. But that is OK with him, he’s not looking to be president he is looking for a well paid gig at a wingnut think tank. If he’s looking to bump anyone off it’s Jim DeMint.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    … and I think it will be a very interesting general election race.

    Indeed…such an election could serve as a showcase of how ridiculous libertarianism is and how most voters would run away in droves from any candidate endorsing that ideology…

  17. Todd says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Indeed…such an election could serve as a showcase of how ridiculous libertarianism is and how most voters would run away in droves from any candidate endorsing that ideology…

    I don’t know. Libertarian social and even foreign policies are pretty attractive to a lot of people. It’s only when you get to economics that the rails come off for anybody who understands the modern monetary system … but most Americans don’t.

    The thing is, Rand Paul is a MUCH better politician than his father.

    In the end, I probably agree that Paul is not electable by a majority of voters. However, if he is the Republican nominee, I think he will do significantly better, later into the race, than many people (especially those who oppose his ideology) might expect.

  18. Just nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    Even though I don’t particularly like what Christie did as governor at the start of his administration, I am persuaded that he is concerned with doing the right thing for his state and its people. That is his strength. Do I see that same strength as a Presidential candidate? Not so much–he has a lot of selling to do for me, and as Todd noted, combining him with GOP control of Congress is pretty much a dealbreaker.

    Neither McCain nor Romney convinced me that they should be President other than “because it’s my turn, that’s why.” Obama was good at selling service to the country, but has been less good at delivering, not entirely because of the GOP, unfortunately. Christie may well be where he should be; in which case, he should stay there.

  19. James Pearce says:

    @Todd:

    Libertarian social and even foreign policies are pretty attractive to a lot of people.

    The problem with this is that the parts of Libertarian social and foreign policies that are attractive to people are not unique to Libertarianism. You can get all the good stuff from Libertarianism from just being a liberal.

  20. humanoid.panda says:

    @Todd: Thing is, Rand Paul is hardly libertarian on social policy: he sponsored fetal personhood bills and is on the record comparing gay marriage to bestiality. As far as economic policy goes, most Americans do indeed don’t understand monetary policy, but they do like social security and medicare and federal funding for education and all sorts of other things Paul will propose slashing. He could get some traction with anti-surveillance, marijuana decriminalization and prison reform, but democrats will find it easy to go to his left on the last two items, and the first is really only crucially important to a small segment of the public.

  21. Anonne says:

    Remember Martha Coakley? It’s a sign that Democrats are not necessarily the lemmings that many Republicans are, lining up behind horrible candidates just because they got the party nomination. Both sides don’t do it equally.

    Granted, when the field was as horrible as it was in 2012, Romney was the least worst candidate but still – Teahadist Republicans convinced themselves of his viability until he lost. As long as he has a R behind his name, they will eventually talk themselves into it. See, e.g., Eric Erickson.

  22. george says:

    @James Pearce:

    The problem with this is that the parts of Libertarian social and foreign policies that are attractive to people are not unique to Libertarianism. You can get all the good stuff from Libertarianism from just being a liberal.

    Except for the pulling out of all foreign military bases, keeping national defense within our borders etc – neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have had much interest in that, even if for different (stated) reasons.

    Not a fan of Libertarians in general (too simplistic even in cases where I like the general philosophy), but their opinion of overseas bases/foreign adventures is pretty attractive.

  23. goethean says:

    Yes, what about the only somewhat fascist voters? Who will represent them?