Chris Christie, my favorite Republican. . . for now

by Russell's Rants

Originally published November 9, 2013

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Holds Election Night PartyIt is no wonder that with Christie’s 22.5 point reelection victory in the New Jersey governor’s race on Tuesday the national press has christened him a star. Other than Christie, there is not one political adult being mentioned as a serious candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. Rand Paul values property rights over civil rights, which should be reversed. Ted Cruz wants to close the federal government and seal the border from immigrants, which is odd for a Canadian. And Rick Santorum. Enough said.

Truth be told, the GOP has not fielded many attractive candidates of late. The last Republican that I actually voted for was Dick Riordan when he ran for reelection as mayor of Los Angeles in 1997. And the fact that Chris Christie is now practically the one and only Republican that I have any respect for is a pretty low bar. He’s still way too conservative for me on social issues (vetoing gay marriage in New Jersey) and economic policy (going after the teachers and canceling good infrastructure projects).

Yet, I have to agree with Maureen Dowd’s reaction to Chris Christie: “[I]t’s hard to know whether you want to hug him or slap him. There’s something both lovable and irritating about the man.”

In looking at the top 2016 contenders for the Republican presidential primaries, a Los Angeles Times writer fairly summarized the group as follows:

“Rand Paul. . . is an unsmiling cold fish, and Ted Cruz. . . [outside the bubble of the tea party]. . . makes people’s skin crawl. Christie is that classic politician you’d like to have a beer with while a Bruce Springsteen song plays on an old jukebox in the corner of the bar.”

Political analysts say the Republicans are divided between its establishment (meaning pragmatic), conservative (Tea Party) and libertarian wings. These are ideological labels that do not do justice to interest groups behind the GOP. Back in the Reagan days, George F. Will explained that the party stood on a three-legged stool: fiscal conservatives (meaning big business types that wanted limited government regulation and low taxes), anti-communists (self-explanatory) and cultural conservatives (the religious right).

With the collapse of the Soviet Union end of the Cold War, the middle leg has either disappeared or fractured between neo-con internationalist and paleo-con isolationists. And the other two legs have become the enablers of big business, but now think they run the show.

We know them as the Tea Party: white middle or even upper middle class folk who are resentful of losing their perceived social and economic station and blame elites (high and low) for it. They are in league with the remnants of the last two legs of Will’s stool, live like Democrats and vote like Rockefellers when they are clearly not.

After the electoral and political disasters that the Tea Party has foisted upon the GOP (think Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin) and the country as a whole (think, if you must, of the government shutdown and near national default), it is heartening to see traditional, business conservatives fighting to take back their party. With financial backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interest, a mainstream conservative in Alabama’s first district was able to defeat a Tea Party yahoo on Tuesday night for a seat in Congress. The empire is starting to strike back, and Christie is its national leader.

Chris Christie is a fiscal conservative and a mild social conservative (he wouldn’t allow his hypothetical gay son to marry, but would give him a big hug). More importantly, temperamentally, he’s someone who actually thinks that government serves a purpose and wants to make deals to get things done. And it’s fun to watch him do it. Call that pragmatic, but it is in stark contrast to the Congressional Republican Party, which wants to shut the whole enterprise of governing down.

Here are the things Chris Christie has done that make me think well of him:

  • Accepted Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare;
  • Coordinated with Obama for Hurricane Sandy relief;
  • Told Rand Paul he was an idiot, before we even knew he was a plagiarist;
  • Signed legislation outlawing gay conversion
  • Legalized medical marijuana; and
  • Withdrew a court appeal trying to stop same-sex marriage in New Jersey

And those make him my favorite Republican.

For now that is.

With the exception of Mitt Romney, whose attraction I never understood, I have generally liked the losing Republican nominees for president – just not during their presidential campaigns. When Bob Dole was just Senate Majority Leader, I found him dry, sarcastic and funny. A real war hero, by the way. Same with John McCain, especially during his first maverick run in 2000. But once they became the nominees of their party for president, I couldn’t stand them. I anticipate I’ll have the same reaction to Christie if and when he becomes the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.

For now, I’m just enjoying intraparty fight and rooting for Christie all the way.