By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
This is a conservative blog, Save Jerseyans, but we’ve never been an establishment-bashing blog. We care about ideas, a rarity in 2015’s new media climate, so we often find ourselves cheering on AND disagreeing with Governor Chris Christie in the same news cycle.
In that spirit, I’ve taken it upon myself to occasionally fact check things he says on the GOP primary trail since we know him better than anyone else talking about him at the national level. Click here if you missed what we had to say about his Second Amendment/gun control record. All facts, no spin!
This instant post deals with what he had to say on Tuesday’s Laura Ingraham radio program (the audio is here) concerning, in his words, how he hasn’t followed the Bush’s or the Clinton’s “certain way of going about things” in public office:
Well – well listen, what I mean is that, if you’re raising all this money, there are people who are going to be asking for things in return. And the fact is, is that, that you know, what I’ve done in New Jersey is to stand up against the – the Democrat machine in our state, and be able to get things done. Get pension and benefit reform done. Get teacher tenure reform done. Veto crazy gun bills, like reduction of magazine size, like a statewide ID card to buy guns, like the banning of the fifty-caliber rifle. All of those things were vetoed by me, standing up for Second Amendment rights in a state that is – is traditionally hostile to Second Amendment rights. Is that the kind of fighter you want in Washington D.C.? Or do you want someone who has dealt with Republican legislature their whole career. I mean that’s – that’s the difference.”
We’re obviously not going to unpack that entire answer in one post. I’m going to drill down on his claim of having stood up to New Jersey Democrat machine or establishment.
The truth, as with the Governor’s gun record, is much more complicated than the sound bite. It IS true, for example, that the Governor shook things up at the beginning of his first term and accomplished some major statutory reforms; it’s also true that he’s vetoed a LOT of junk, some of it dangerous. No doubt about any of that. Anyone who claims we would’ve been better off, or no worse off, with a second Jon Corzine term is either stupid or self-interested.
But did he stand up to the machine? It’s more accurate to say that he co-opted it to a significant degree, at least for a time…
Our audience has grown quite a bit since then so, if you missed it, go ahead and check out my piece here about Chris Christie’s “improvised landslide” in 2013 and over here for my 2015 follow-up on his need to refocus on New Jersey. Very long story short, after Republicans got their clock cleaned in the 2011 redistricting process and taking back the legislature became nearly impossible, the Christie Administration changed its focus from reforming Trenton to winning a landslide in 2013, one which would set the Governor up as a shoe-in for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. The government affairs wing lobbied aggressively to win Democrat mayors over to their side through personal diplomacy and amazing constituent service.
Unfortunately, certain lieutenants went overboard in executing this plan and, as I recently explained to the Washington Examiner, what you’ve come to know as “Bridgegate” was born. The election was nevertheless one when bosses sat on their hands and let Barbara Buono flap in the wind and resulting in low Democrat turnout:
The end result? Despite winning a broad victory by nearly 12 more points than his last race, Christie earned approximately 1,252,100 this time around, or just 77,655 votes more than the 1,174,445 that he won in 2009. The Democrat difference was much more pronounced last Tuesday; Barbara Buono (790,245) turned out 297,486 less votes than Jon Corzine (1,087,731), including almost 30,000 less votes in Essex County.”
Chris Christie might very well lead the Republican field today – as there wouldn’t have been an opening for the likes of Jeb!, Kasich, Walker and the Donald to enter the race – without Bridgegate, and you don’t have Bridgegate without the macro-2013 gubernatorial reelection/presidential launch strategy.
A significant part of that strategy involved forging tactical alliances with Democrat bosses including Union City’s Brian Stack and the state’s most powerful, George Norcross III (against whom then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie had dropped an investigation in 2005, explaining that the probe had been botched); it got to the point where we even have a photo of Chris Christie at an Eagles game with Norcross and the Harry Reid staffer behind a Democrat Super PAC attacking his own party’s legislative candidates mere days before Election 2013. Suffice it to say, again, this is a huge topic which warrants sub-posts of its own.
What’s changed? To this day, boss-backed legislation encounters little opposition under the Dome and a tenuous working relationship between more moderate South Jersey/Northern urban Democrats and the Republican Administration continues to control the agenda, but as his statewide and national fortunes have worsened, the Governor’s Democrat allies have become increasingly disloyal.
The verdict: In a strongly-worded January 2015 post, my friend and colleague Art Gallagher wondered aloud whether Trenton had turned Christie upside down. That’s a majority albeit cautiously shared opinion these days among rank-and-file NJ GOP committee members, operatives and even elected officials, especially at the local and county levels. Christie loyalists and allies are still strong in number, however diminished, and they counter (also in private) that the Governor did the absolute best he could with a crappy legislative map and an inherited political wasteland.
The truth, as with most things, lies somewhere in between. Chris Christie did a lot with a little especially between taking office in January 2010 and continuing through legislative redistricting the following year, a process which he aggressively engaged, and the resulting map limited many of his political options. He has also stood up to the liberal majority’s worst impulses with his veto pen on many, many occasions. With that being said, it’s indisputable that once the redistricting battle was fought, standing up to the Trenton Democrat establishment’s decision-makers, as opposed to working with them to squeeze out North Jersey’s more liberal suburban legislators, was no longer part of the strategy.