GOP Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie has found himself in hot water of late. Revelations that some of his top aides discussed shutting down the number of lanes from 3-1 in late September on a major bridge that ran through the city of Fort Lee, NJ because the mayor refused to endorse Christie for Governor last year have led him to fire a top aide and his chief political adviser. In the wake of more damaging allegations it is easy to write this situation off as a one-time thing that Christie had no hand in and move on. But it helps illustrate yet another reason why Chris Christie’s obvious bid for President in 2016 will fall flat.
Chris Christie certainly has strong appeal to the right and center. Arguably he even has some to the left. Christie is tough talking and took on the unions in 2010. He refused to raise taxes and opposed gay marriage. To the middle despite his tough talk he is willing to compromise and take 80% of what he wants instead of all or nothing. To the left he is a moderate in an increasingly conservative party. However, despite his strong reelection in 2013 his veneer has worn off to all groups.
Conservatives do not like the fact Christie has backed off the New Jersey Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage, backing some gun control ideas and doing little on property taxes in the state. Independents have to be disappointed that Christie would attack his political opponents in such a way and liberals while never liking him much before now must dislike him even more for this wanton use of power.
The first is fairly obvious. Christie is a moderate conservative who will have to run in a GOP Presidential Primary. Unlike Romney, Christie will not have the built-in advantages the prior nominee did. Romney consolidated support after his first bid in 2008 helping him court the business community and expand his name ID. This would be Christie’s first bid. Second, Romney ran against a weak field that was simply vying to be the conservative alternative to Romney. The field facing Christie is sure to be much stronger with nominees just as conservative as those that faced Romney but able to appeal to the groups Romney in 2012 and that Christie will need in 2016. In short, Christie cannot count on simply winning moderates and watching the conservative vote splinter.
On a geographical and cultural level there are serious doubts about Christie’s appeal to Midwestern voters. His brash nature might appeal to Republicans who want a nominee with fight but likely candidates like Scott Walker have shown the same fight on actual policy. Their cultural appeal is more grounded in mild, Midwestern roots in the rough and tumble politics of Trenton. In the South, Christie’s backing down on gay marriage is sure to make voters think he is a closet, Northeastern liberal while in the Northeast and West Christie might gain traction in the suburbs but not appeal to rural voters who may feel a closer affinity to a Marco Rubio or Rand Paul.
Third, Christie will have weaknesses that will be exploited. His lack of a strong domestic record in New Jersey and his lack of foreign policy experience stand out. Christie has talked much stronger on unions and pension reform in the state than he has achieved in policy. And his only foreign policy experience can be called getting into a debate with Rand Paul on the role of the NSA and how dangerous libertarians are to the GOP. Least he will have spunk.
Lastly, Christie’s abuse of power illustrated above is sure to be fodder for his opponents. Actions such as bridge closures as political payback may fly in Trenton but elsewhere in the country voters tend to not like their leaders being so craven with the power they possess. This use of power also hurts Christie in his appeal to Midwestern and Southern voters who tend to elect more mild-mannered politicians (even Al Franken has been quiet since 08).
As said above this could blow over in time and it may not harm Christie on the surface but below it likely will. It separates him from the voters he needs to court in 2016 and shows that he is a politician more of the era of the 1920’s and even 60’s than the new century.