It would be difficult to call Chris Christie anything but a Conservative. He wants the government to support his personal opposition to abortion, saying that a fetus at three months is a child “which deserves protection.” (1) He has “used his executive power several times to deny funding for family planning clinics,” resulting in the closure of six of these clinics. (2) The Governor vetoed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey. (3) Teachers Unions have been vilified by Christie as caring “more about pensions, wage increases, generous benefits packages and summers off than about extending quality education to all students.” (4) On the fiscal front he has provided corporations with $1.57 billion in tax cuts while making $46.5 million in budget cuts from programs like those that provided college aid for low-income students, advocacy for abused children and legal aid services. (5)
Even with these bona fides, there are those, particularly from within the TEA Party wing, who label Christie as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). (6) Some of this criticism can be attributed to the Governor’s decision to host President Obama as New Jersey suffered through the effects of superstorm Sandy. Some blame this “bromance” (7) for Romney’s loss by nearly five million votes in an election the right wing media assured them he would win. (8) The bitterness over this loss is demonstrated by the fact that someone from Romney’s team leaked details of the confidential vetting report for Christie to the authors of Double Down: Game Change 2012.
Christie’s alienation from the most conservative wing of the party can be explained by their refusal to allow any deviation from the party’s social platform. He supported legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases. (9) His anti-abortion stance is not pure enough as he believes in “exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother.” (10) He recognized the problem of global warming by stating that “when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts.” (11) Unlike the House Republicans’ insistence on funding the fight to keep DOMA, Christie pulled the plug on his state’s appeals when it was apparent that the New Jersey Supreme Court would overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
To an ideology whose adherents threaten to “primary” any politician who dares to compromise with Democrats, these positions are considered blasphemy and fuels a desire to further shrink the Republican Party’s big tent. However, outside of the TEA Party these positions offer hope. They certainly do not go far enough to win over Liberals, but at least they are a refreshing acknowledgement that shades of gray do exist when discussing public policy. To the majority of Americans who consider themselves to be political independents, they are a reminder that there used to be a time when every disagreement did not end in governmental gridlock.
This ability to move beyond political orthodoxy has allowed Christie to flourish in a state who has not gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988 and just last month selected a Democrat over a TEA Party candidate to fill a Senate vacancy. (12) It has also given him the ability to hold his ground on issues that are not consistent with the electorates’ and still maintain their personal support. When the Governor vetoed a bill to increase New Jersey’s minimum wage and tie future increases to the rate of inflation, the Democratic legislature put the issue before the voters. In the same election where they retained Christie for another four year term, 61% of voters went against his wishes and approved this amendment to the state constitution. (13)
Unlike Mitt Romney, who felt his “job is not to worry about those people,” Christie did not automatically write off voters outside his core constituencies. (14) As a result, “he increased his share in nearly every demographic compared to the previous election.” (15) This included 32% of Democrats and 66% of independents. (16) As Latinos rapidly increase their share of the electorate and Boehner blocks immigration reform in the House, Christie received 51% of the Hispanic vote. (17) In the past presidential election, Romney received only 27% of the Hispanic vote. (18) Despite his opposition to abortion, Christie closed the gender gap and received 57% of the female vote. (19) With strong opposition by single voters, Romney only received 44% of the female vote last year. (20)
Given Christie’s oversized personality, it is difficult to believe that he will repeat the mistakes of McCain and Romney by pivoting so far to the right during the primaries that he can not come back to the center for the general election. The party will then have to make the choice between ideological purity and a candidate who can win the White House. It took Clinton to break the hold of the left on the Democratic party. Can Christie do the same for the hold the right has on Republicans?
(15) (16) (17) (19) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2gvY2wqI7M
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