RSS
Why Republicans should stop dreaming of Chris Christie
Dissatisfied with Rick Perry, many conservatives are hopelessly trying to draft New Jersey's governor. But let's face it — he's no messiah
Tish Durkin
Tish Durkin
T

he governor of New Jersey is named Christie, not Christ. This seems like a good thing to mention at the moment. For in the GOP's distress at Rick Perry's failure to capture America's awe like a suddenly unconcealed weapon, some Republicans are still hoping against hope that no matter how many refusals Christie issues, they can draft the tough-talking titan of Trenton to run for president.

What are they smoking?

That question should not be taken to mean that Christie is a bad governor, or that he mightn't be a good presidential candidate. But no matter how deservedly praised a speech he has just made at the Reagan Library, he simply does not have the stuff of a savior. It is to Christie's real credit that thus far, despite all the adulation now flooding over him, he seems to realize this.

Chris Christie simply does not have the stuff of a savior.

To begin with the most obvious point, the Garden State is not exactly blooming with economic health. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, New Jersey's  unemployment rate is 9.4 percent — the worst in the mid-Atlantic region. That's also slightly worse than the national rate — and better than only 15 states, counting D.C.

Of course, it would make no more sense to lay these figures entirely at the feet of Christie than it makes sense to blame the national economy wholly on President Obama. And substantively speaking, some New Jersey job losses — in the form of cuts to the public sector — may actually reflect well on the governor. But where economies are concerned, voters have a persistent habit of laying absolute credit and blame where neither is due. In a campaign in which "jobs" is the only word that matters, jumping in as the governor of the 36th best employment state hardly seems like divine intervention.

Second, the Christie administration has been far from blunder-free. One needn't be a master of opposition research to unearth last year's Race to the Top fiasco, in which New Jersey came within three points of gaining a $400 million federal education grant, but fell short by screwing up the answer to a five-point question on the application. Given that the New Jersey Supreme Court has since ordered the state to restore $500 million in cuts to the poorest school districts, that is a freshly relevant hit to the state budget. 

Moreover, the governor's handling of the fallout — first lashing out at the federal bureaucracy, then firing his education commissioner amid an unseemly who-knew-what-when dispute — did not quite embody grace under pressure. I won't make too much of the relative puffery, like the time he rode on a state helicopter to his son's high-school athletic event — but the minute he enters the race as the budget-balancing avenger, his opponents certainly will.

Finally, he's just too far behind. Christie pushers have developed the reflex of responding to doubts about their hero's relatively limited political experience by citing similar past references about a freshman senator named Barack Obama. In terms of resume, they make a very fair point. On fundraising and organization, though, they are dreaming. At this point in his own odds-defying quest, Obama was way ahead of where Christie is now. If Christie announced his presidential candidacy tomorrow, he would do so a good six months later in the cycle than Obama announced his in February 2007.

By then, Obama had a well-established federal PAC — not a source of direct funding to his campaign, of course, but a very handy mechanism for building intraparty relationships. And his team had long since laid in place the workings of the brilliant  fundraising machine that gave Obama his strongest shot of initial plausibility, carried him over the inevitable rough spots, and sustained him to the end. Sure, it might be possible for Christie to put it all together even now. But as eleventh-hour insurgents go, this year's rendition of Obama he is not.

What with all the free, florid media attention and growth in national stature, there is nothing bad about being a governor who is the subject of presidential speculation. But for this governor at this time, there is a lot that could be bad about giving in to it. The next time Christie is smart enough to say "no," his faithful flock should be smart enough to say “amen.”

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week