Chris Christie's Problem: Nobody Wants Him for President
Last week, Fox reported Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) was courting support from people who usually back Democrats, and this week, a conservative group began pummeling him for his liberal judicial appointments. Together, these highlight his fatal flaw: neither the Republican base nor the Republican establishment wants Chris Christie to be the GOP nominee for president.
Fox Business’ Charlie Gasparino mentioned on Fox News Channel last week that he observed Christie sitting down with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder who ardently supports liberal causes and is regarded as an ally and supporter of Barack Obama.
Then this week, Breitbart News reported how the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) launched a broadside ad against Christie for appointing leftwing judicial activists to the New Jersey Supreme Court, arguing that his appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court would be disastrous.
There has been a sea change in the coverage of the bombastic and bellicose Governor Christie. In the days following Christie’s CPAC speech in March, various talking heads tried to talk him up, saying the “left and the mainstream media” are trying to “destroy” him in his blatantly-obvious-yet-unannounced White House bid.
They did not mention his other problem: the core of the Republican Party doesn’t want him, either.
First, Christie has a problem with moderate Republicans. Establishment leaders will prefer someone who doesn’t break with the party on issues where the GOP’s position is also shared by a solid majority of swing voters and who is not plagued by any sort of scandals that could sour independent voters. They will back Jeb Bush if he runs, or possibly consider Mitt Romney (again) if Bush doesn’t run.
Second, Christie has become a proven foe of the Republican Party’s conservative base. He’s not conservative on social issues or economic issues. He’s strong on national security, but aside from Rand Paul, most Republicans looking at a White House run believe in a foreign policy that is both fully-funded and assertive across the world.
One of Republicans’ problems is that for several election cycles, they’ve allowed coastal elites—both media and political establishment—a decisive role in picking their nominees. They backed Rudy Giuliani and John McCain in 2008. They backed Mitt Romney in 2012. How did those work out?
The bottom line is that the Republican Party became a new party under Ronald Reagan. Since then, only Reagan or someone running as Reagan’s heir or on a Reaganesque platform has won the White House.
But occasionally, someone like Mayor Rudy Giuliani comes along. He was a strong and decisive leader, served the nation extremely well after the horrific 9/11 attacks, and had an impressive career of public service.
But Giuliani had a record that was pro-choice and anti-gun. That—plus some issues related to his personal life—was enough to make him come in sixth place in Iowa, with less than 4% of the vote. Then it was all over.
Even then, Rudy had things going for him that appealed to the GOP base. First, he was a solid fiscal conservative—on both spending and taxes. He wanted to shrink the size and scope of government.
Second, as a top-tier lawyer, he went to groups like the Federalist Society, where he gave well-received speeches on whom he would appoint to the federal courts, and most especially the Supreme Court.
Christie shares the trait of being anti-gun, ensuring the National Rifle Association would do everything possible to demolish him in a primary. (The NRA is exceedingly effective at that.) And while he claims to be pro-life, Republicans don’t trust him on that issue, either.
Then there’s marriage. Christie’s office claims they were disappointed that the New Jersey Supreme Court created gay marriage, while surrendering the legal fight. The Drudge Report got it right with the headline: “Christie embraces gay marriage in NJ.”
And this highlights an area where Rudy Giuliani might have gained traction with the GOP base, but Christie is a total flop. That’s what led to JCN’s new ad.
Christie’s spokesman has decried the ad, insisting the Governor’s judicial nominees have been conservative. Now Carrie Severino, who is JCN’s chief counsel as a former law clerk to the most conservative member on the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas, responded:
By conservative, is Christie’s spokesman referring to the justices who in 2013 ruled unanimously in favor of same-sex marriage? The justices who in 2013 unanimously voted to open the floodgates to trial lawyers seeking to attack companies under state law?
Is he referring to Bruce Harris, the failed nominee who equated marriage between a man and woman with segregation and slavery and believed that opposition to same-sex marriage violates “the separation between state and religion”? Harris was rejected after admitting during his hearings that he had virtually no courtroom experience.
Or maybe Christie’s spokesman was referring to his most recent nominee, Lee Solomon, who local columnist Paul Mulshine says “has a history as a pro-choicer” and was once endorsed by New Jersey Right to Choose.
JCN’s attacks may seriously damage Christie in Iowa and South Carolina among the early primary states, and appointing judicial activists will not help Christie anywhere. Issues ranging from gun rights to religious liberty are decided by the courts.
Economic issues on the size and scope of government are also decided by the courts, especially Obamacare. The GOP base is still enraged that Chief Justice John Roberts was the fifth vote to save Obamacare in the 2012 NFIB v. Sebelius case. Now that Obamacare is on track for several follow-up rounds in the High Court (most recently Hobby Lobby), Republicans are focused on conservative judges who are likely to find significant legal flaws in the Affordable Care Act or in the administration’s regulations implementing Obamacare.
In that vein, Christie committed what for Republican base voters will probably be the unpardonable sin. Obamacare is almost entirely a federal program, but it has two major parts that states can either decide to join or reject. One is the massive expansion of Medicaid, which almost doubles the number of Americans on government health care, at payment rates that most doctors will not (and cannot afford to) accept. The other is to set up a state exchange to sell Obamacare insurance policies.
While opposing Obamacare in his speeches, Chris Christie has joined both of these key systems. This will widely open Christie to attack ads in the Republican primary. One can also picture a conservative candidate like Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) confronting Christie onstage during a televised debate, saying to the Garden State Governor, “You support Obamacare, and I don’t.”
So Christie is taking fire from the right, and he has little to commend himself to moderates who will want a candidate who can unify the party and win the White House in 2016. Polls showing him with significant numbers are worthless, since 18 months before the Iowa caucuses those polls are driven by name identification, rather than an informed and deliberate choice.
The once-imposing Governor is shrinking rapidly, and it’s not clear whether Chris Christie will even be considered a contender by the time Iowa holds its caucuses in early 2016.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.