In Defense of Chris Christie

Posted: Feb 27, 2013 3:00 PM

I get it.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not a perfect conservative -- far from it, in fact.  His embrace of the president during Hurricane Sandy's aftermath was overly effusive, even if it aligned with his bipartisan, results-oriented brand.  His decision to accept Obamacare's Medicaid expansion after blasting it as a form of "extortion" is a hypocritical, government-growing mistake.  His cautious hedging on gun control rankles Second Amendment advocates.  His budgets haven't slashed spending as much as fiscal hawks would like.  And his demagogic bullying of Congress over Sandy relief funds was appalling.  But the growing consensus among some conservatives that Christie is effectively a Democrat who should be shunned by the Right and denied any claim on the word "conservative" is counter-productive madness.  

The political world is buzzing about the American Conservative Union's pointed decision to deny Christie an invitation to its annual CPAC gathering.  (For the record, Townhall is a major sponsor of CPAC, and I'm looking forward to attending the conference -- a portion of which I'll be emceeing). This outcome has been attributed to everything from Christie's insufficient support for gun rights to his Medicaid capitulation to his Sandy performance.  One anonymous CPAC source told National Review that conference organizers froze Christie out in part because he has a "limited future in the national Republican Party."  That may very well be the case, although the same could have been said of John McCain, Mitt Romney and even Ronald Reagan at certain points of their careers.  The definitive history of Christie's standing among conservatives has yet to be written -- and it will be up to the voters (and Christie himself) to decide if he has a future within the national party.  At the moment, Christie has made it perfectly clear that his attention is trained on tackling the issues facing his state, where he's up for re-election later this year.  More on that in a moment.  But first, the governor delivered a major budget speech to the New Jersey legislature yesterday.  Here is an excerpt from his prepared remarks:

For the fourth year in a row, this budget is balanced and imposes no tax increases on the people of New Jersey. I want every New Jersey citizen to remember just how different things were before we arrived. 115 tax and fee increases in eight years. Skyrocketing spending. $13 billion in deficits left on our doorstep by the irresponsibility of the past. We must never take for granted what we have already achieved. Reduced spending. New jobs. Balanced budgets four years in a row. And lower taxes. It is truly a new day for New Jersey. For the fourth year in a row, the budget funds the key initiatives necessary to rebuild our state and restore our prospects for future growth and greatness. It provides a record amount of funding for our schools. It once again fully funds the pension contribution we agreed to in the landmark pension reform we enacted together in 2011. In fact, no previous governor has contributed what we have contributed to our pension fund. This budget also triples our job creating business tax cuts and incentives for growth that we put in place two years ago. It also provides for those most in need: our lowest-income families, those with chronic illnesses, and people with developmental disabilities. In total, the budget I am submitting to you today provides $32.9 billion in state spending. While we are meeting the needs of our people in this budget, we are doing it by spending less than the state spent in Fiscal Year 2008. Let me repeat that for you. Six years later, a budget that still spends less. Where else is this happening in America? This is what happens when you have a government that tells people the truth, that makes the hard choices and actually manages our government.  

These are not the words or actions of a big government liberal.  Christie went on to renew his call for a ten percent across-the-board income tax cut, introduce a school choice initiative, tout the pension and healthcare reforms he extracted from government unions, and extol the results on his property tax cap.  Sure, there's still plenty of room for criticism.  Despite job gains, the state's unemployment rate remains too high.  Christie's proposed spending is lower than it was in FY 2008, but is higher than last year's budget.  And his unpersuasive defense of the Medicaid gambit is only somewhat tempered by his reminder that he is "no fan of the Affordable Care Act," having twice vetoed an Obamacare exchange in the Garden State.  But for every frustrating or indefensible call he's made, he's done something like yank New Jersey out of a job-killing carbon emissions scheme, or strip Planned Parenthood of state funding.   In other words, Christie's performance has been a mixed bag for conservatives.  

Which brings us to the impulse to purge.  I have no beef with conservatives who say they couldn't support Christie for president.  I have no quarrel with those who mount strong, principled arguments against some of his actions; indeed, I share more than a few of their criticisms.  But I am alarmed and slightly perplexed by the "he's dead to us" posture many conservatives have adopted toward the truculent governor.  A bit of perspective is in order.  New Jersey isn't purple.  It isn't even light blue.  It is a deep blue state.  Last year, it was one of only a small handful of states where Barack Obama actually expanded his victory margin over 2008.  The voters of New Jersey chose to return perenially-embattled liberal Senator Bob Menendez to Capitol a 20-point margin.  And New Jerseyans haven't elected a Republican US Senator since the Nixon era.  This represents exceptionally hostile terrain for any Republican, let alone a quasi-conservative one (and no, Christie didn't actually say he agrees with Andrew Cuomo on "98 percent" of issues).  And yet:

Gov. Chris Christie has shattered another public opinion poll record by scoring a 74 percent job approval rating, the highest of any governor in 17 years of Quinnipiac University surveys. Respondents also overwhelmingly said the brash-talking Republican deserves re-election this year. The poll released Wednesday shows Christie leading his likely Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono, by 37 percentage points.  

That gaudy approval stat includes 56 percent of the state's Democrats, 77 percent of independents, and 94 percent of Republicans -- not bad for a RINO.  There's also this:

The national GOP -- you know, the enterprise in which Christie apparently has a "limited future" -- just got its clock cleaned in the presidential election.  Despite losing 60 percent of the white vote, President Obama was re-elected with relative ease because Republicans got absolutely decimated among people of color.  Since November, conservatives have had countless whispered discussions, spilled oceans of ink, and organized a parade of panel discussions about how the Republican Party can successfully grapple with its current demographic challenges.  Here's a prominent Republican who's managed to break free from his party's horrific image troubles and is attracting remarkably broad support in a heavily Democratic state.  You may not love the guy; hell, you might not even like him -- but how on earth does it make sense to tell him to get lost?   

This country is in grave trouble, and the Left is ascendant.  The center-right coalition simply does not have the luxury of engaging in internecine pissing matches, pardon my language.  Enough with the internal expulsions, name-calling, bans and retaliatory boycotts.  The American Idea is worth fighting for, but that imperative task is made nearly impossible when conservatives -- broadly defined -- insist on endlessly fighting each other.

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