Monday, August 19, 2013

Is Chris Christie the Great GOP Hope?

I can just hear my progressive friends now. There he goes again, looking for the lone ray of sunshine in the otherwise endless perfect storm that is the GOP. Didn't he fawn all over Mitt Romney back in 2011? And didn't he say that Romney was the chosen one who was going to lead his people to the promised land?

Well, not really. As I recall, my interest in Gordon Gekko was purely speculative. When I took an objective look at the field of candidates vying for the Republican nomination, the former governor of Massachusetts seemed the only logical choice. He also was the only one who wasn't completely nutso. I could hardly be blamed for having a rooting interest.

Unfortunately, Romney turned out to be the used-car salesman from hell. To appease his party's base and secure the nomination, he had to run so far to the right that he was never able to pivot back to the necessary center all candidates need to do to win a general election. That and the fact that he seemed about as genuine as a two dollar bill sealed his fate against Barack Obama.

In the months since last November's trouncing, the GOP has conducted its own autopsy, gone on a "retreat" to a former slave plantation and come to the unalterable conclusion that their problem came down to two things: a failure to clearly articulate their message and picking the wrong messenger. They are now in the process of doubling down on that same "grand" message that went over so well with last year's electorate, and the search for an authentic messenger is now in full swing.

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul lead the pack. Not far behind are Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum. And pulling up the rear - sorry for the pun - is my pick: Chris Christie.

I won't mince words here. The likelihood of a Christie nomination is dubious at best. I believe I recently went on record as saying I had a better chance of getting the Republican nod than the current governor of New Jersey. Hyperbole aside, Christie has some considerable obstacles to overcome if he wants to be the GOP nominee. But those are the very same obstacles that ironically would help him considerably in a general election.

To understand how Christie could win, it is important to go back two years and look at how Mitt Romney lost. One of things that many conservative writers like David Frum kept harping on was how Romney could be the one GOP candidate who could both appeal to the extreme base of his party, yet appeal to a large cross section of independent and moderate voters. Of course, the problem for Frum and others like him (myself included) was that they overestimated Romney's ability to be his own man and define himself and his candidacy. Instead, he spent the vast majority of his time trying to figure out what he had to do and say to win. In short, Romney had no platform, no spine and lacked any ability to chart his own course. For all the hullabaloo about the Obama campaign's lack of a second-term vision, it was Romney's lack of vision that became his undoing.

In every way, shape and form Chris Christie suffers from none of those shortcomings. You could call him the anti-Romney. If anything, Christie is a bit too forthcoming about what he stands for. Like the New Jerseyan he is, Christie wears both his heart and his attitude on his sleeve. You could almost see him telling an opponent to go fuck himself. If Chris Christie were in a poker game, he'd probably lose the house and the kid's tuition.

I have to be honest. That kind of naked honesty is refreshing. Though I think it's safe to say I disagree with virtually every position he holds, sans a few, if I lived in the Garden State, I would have a hard time pulling the lever for his opponent, what's-her-face. If Chris Christie doesn't win reelection by at least 20 points, there ought to be an investigation.

Another reason I like the guy is that the Tea Party loathes him. And with good reason. He's his own man, beholden to nobody but himself. Unlike Mittens, who really should have picked for his campaign slogan, "I'm for whatever you want," Christie has no trouble making his bones - there's that New Jersey thing again - and bluntly telling it like it is. Two years ago, he called the anti-Sharia law zealots in his party nuts. Last year, after his state had been decimated by Superstorm Sandy, he had the audacity to suck up to the Sith Lord Obama and ask for federal assistance. Recently he went after Tea Party darling Rand Paul, calling his libertarian views on defense highly dangerous. And just this week, he signed legislation that outlawed the so-called "gay cure" for children.

All of these moves and others like them have put him at the top of the far Right's hit list. Gas bags like Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh have been merciless in their attacks on him. If I didn't know better, I'd say that Christie has a death wish. Certainly any Republican looking to make a presidential run would do all he could to suck up to the rank and file of his base. Instead, Christie appears to be doing everything possible to piss them off.

So what's his angle? Clearly he has set his sights on 2016. His keynote address at the Republican National Convention last year was but a tune-up for what many have said is his acceptance speech. You know deep down the man wants the job, so why is he shooting himself in the foot?

I don't think he is. In my opinion, Chris Christie knows full well what he's doing. He may be arrogant and full of himself, but he is NOT an idiot. He took good notes last year and rightly came to the conclusion that his party, as presently constituted, has about as much chance of succeeding nationally as he does appearing on the cover of GQ. I think he has decided to really go rogue. But unlike Sarah Palin, Christie fully intends to deliver on the term.

After he wraps up what will likely be a fairly easy reelection, my guess is he will begin looking ahead to his next move. He will stake out a claim that he is a conservative, but one who will work with Democrats. He will continue to distance himself from his party's polarizing stances. And as the GOP continues to dig a hole all the way to China, Christie will position himself as the logical alternative to the gridlock in Washington.

I can just hear him now. "Don't like the leaders you elected? Throw them out and send me to Washington. I'll get things done." Don't laugh. You'd be surprised how many people are that fed up with the status quo. Someone like Christie, who's willing to stand up to his own party, could be the perfect tonic for such a disgruntled voter block.

Now, I know what you're going to say. Nice pipe dream, but there's no way that Christie could ever pull it off because, as you said, he'd never win the nomination.

Well, I never said it'd be easy. In fact the odds are against him being able to pull it off. The moment Chris Christie steps onto the stage of that first primary debate, he will be forced to turn towards the dark side or be tossed aside.

But imagine if, instead of cowering like Mitt Romney, Chris Christie has the guts to say in front of millions of voters, look I'm different from these candidates and let me tell you how. Imagine the first Republican candidate who has the courage to present a vision of America that doesn't pander to the most arcane, myopic, racist and sexist elements any party could tolerate.If he did somehow manage to connect with enough primary voters to eek out the nomination, he could ride that wave all the way to a general election victory in 2016, Hillary or no Hillary.

Seriously, if you don't think Chris Christie could win Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Florida, then you really don't know much about the electoral landscape. Yes, Hillary Clinton would be a formidable candidate - the best the Democratic Party has - but Christie could go toe to toe with her in virtually every battle-ground state. In fact, he could conceivably run the table.

Of course, none of that will come to pass if the far Right has its way and, once again, nominates another crazy, not ready for prime-time loser for the electorate to soundly reject. And, if I had to bet, that's exactly what they'll likely do. They can't help themselves. They're predisposed toward losing so long as they remain hopelessly trapped inside that bubble of theirs.

But just think about the possibilities. Two candidates, both sane and both talking about the issues like adults. When was the last time the country had two candidates, both with different visions, who could have an open and honest debate about the future of the country where the prospect of one of them winning doesn't make your skin crawl or give you nightmares? Yes, I know a Republican in the White House would suck. But, to quote Shakespeare, there are worse things in heaven and earth, people, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. The nation desperately needs two fully functioning political parties in order to be effectively governed. As of now it has one party doing its utmost to keep the flood waters from inundating the village and the other doing its utmost to torch it.

If Chris Christie can somehow rescue his party from those who have kidnapped it, win or lose, he will have made his mark, not only for the GOP, but quite possibly for the entire political system of the United States.

And that would be pretty fuckin' awesome.

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