A Tale of Two Christies

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

Christie vs. NewtGovernor Chris Christie had a pretty solid week on the points, Save Jerseyans. His State of the State served its purpose and reelect polling numbers continued to look strong. Very strong.

His chances for reelection certainly are looking strong a little less than ten months out. Some would even call “strong” an understatement. I’m fine with it; Republicans can never take anything for granted in the Garden State, and no politician worth his salt views ten months as anything other than a lifetime.

But heading into an unusually warm weekend in NJ, Governor Christie’s prospects appear somewhat less certain on the national stage than they once did in recent memory, out over one of the many bridges — or under a tunnel — connecting our little peninsula (not an “isthmus,” kiddies, which is a common mistake) to the rest of these glorious states united.

Two much-discussed articles this week. Two Christies decribed therein. Two very different takes on the big challenges facing America’s favorite big personality and his general trajectory over the next few years…

Buzz around this week’s TIME spread focused on the faux controversy over the cover. We’ve since read the actual article, and it’s about what I’d expect from a liberal magazine. Approval of Christie’s Republican putdowns, a polite nod to his Sandy performance, but a not-so-subtle satisfaction that the aforementioned GOP putdowns have potentially complicated the New Jersey Republican’s 2016 prospects. Does the media have a love/hate relationship with Christie – disgusted by his “bullying” and party affiliation but charmed by his other attributes (and ratings-boosting outbursts)? Or is it curiosity that drives them? A popular Republican who occassionally says not-so-Republican things in an entertaining way?

It’s almost like they don’t know what to do with him.

Then there’s the Wall Street Journal op-ed from Daniel Henninger, also profiling the Governor’s Sandy performance and focusing in on the Sandy aid flap. Here’s the key passage for our purposes:

Chris Christie’s efforts to pull New Jersey back from its cliff and restore economic growth have been the basis for his aggressive governing style. Then Sandy hit New Jersey and New York, states whose public “commitments” could barely be supported on a sunny day. Now a widely admired governor’s politics is being transformed into something pretty run-of-the mill.

When the Wall Street Journal disses a Republican’s politics, it’s kind of like the New York Times doing it to a Democrat. It’s weird. And it speaks to something deeper going on out there. Governor Christie’s brand has been cultivated to come across as anything BUT “run-of-the mill.” If that’s what primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire believe come Winter 2016, then he won’t be in the running for very long despite his considerable advantages in terms of fundraising and celebrity.

Anyone who says the Governor doesn’t care about 2016 isn’t being honest. It’s not considered polite to air such ambitions in public, but practiced modesty in interviews doesn’t mean those ambitions aren’t real. And why shouldn’t they be real? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it provided such a goal doesn’t affect your ability to do your current job.

Going forward, the challenge for Team Christie now is how to strike the balance.

He ran an objectively conservative campaign in 2009 and didn’t significantly deviate from that course for most of his first term. After the trainwreck that was legislative redistricting, however, there was undoubtedly a shift in the Administration’s messaging. They’re working on shoring up the Christie brand — and setting few long term goals, something very evident in the State of the State of Address — because redistricting has ensured that the state legislature is likely to remain hostile to new Christie reforms regardless of the November election results.

Can the Governor play out his current strategy through November 2013, shift back into “super campaigner” mode for out-of-state Republican candidates in 2014, and then sufficiently address anti-Christie base angst by 2015 in order to avoid a long, protracted and ultimately damaging primary like the one Mitt Romney suffered?

I’m not sure. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s him.


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