New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was all over the Sunday news shows, basking in the glow of his strong re-election win this past week, pronouncing the necessary future for the Republican Party, deflecting questions about his own future regarding the 2016 presidential race.
“What I’m interested in doing is being the governor of New Jersey," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
“The fact is we’ve got a lot of things to do, a lot of things to focus on, and I know everybody’s going to be speculating on what may come on my future and lots of other people’s future in our party," Christie continued. "But the fact is: I’m focused on being the governor of New Jersey and being the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. I think those two jobs will keep me pretty busy over the next year."
Hmm. “The next year” means up until the elbowing for dominance among other 2016 presidential hopefuls begins for real. In fact, it’s already begun.
Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida were tepid in their congratulations to Christie for his recent win.
"Is a conservative in New Jersey a conservative in the rest of the country?" Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who might try again after his less-than-sterling performance in 2012) asked on ABC’s “This Week.” "We'll have that discussion at the appropriate time."
Christie beat Democratic New Jersey Sen. Barbara Buono by a whopping 22.3 percent. More significantly for national consideration by a nearly all-white GOP, exit polls show he won 21 percent of the black vote and 50 percent of the Hispanic vote – far more than Mitt Romney did when he lost his presidential bid last year. Christie did quite well (for a Republican) among women and union members too.
In the wake of last year’s party losses in the presidential and congressional races, mainstream (i.e., non-tea party) Republicans know they have to give minority voters a better reason – any reason at all – to vote for them.
"If you want to win a vote by that kind of margin, if you want to attract the majority of the Hispanic vote, if you want to nearly triple your African American vote, you need to show up, you need to go into those neighborhoods, you need to campaign in places," Christie said.
Exit polls say Christie also carried one-third of Democrats and two-thirds of independents.
In other words, the blunt-spoken Christie, who’s butted heads with some labor unions, may call himself conservative. But compared to what appears to be the dominant force in Republican politics today – the tea party (which pushed Mitt Romney to the right in 2012 and which has bumped off several traditionally conservative lawmakers) – Christie is much more moderate.
He’s willing, for example, to consider immigration reform and some gun control measures. He was opposed to the legislative and judicial approval for same-sex marriage in New Jersey, but he didn’t fall on his sword over it. In other words, he’s more like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan than like Republican tea party conservative Ken Cuccinelli, who lost the race for Virginia governor last week.
He’s also more like another Northeasterner who stood up and stood out at a time of disaster: former New York mayor Rudy Giuilani. (For Giuilani, it was 9/11; for Christie, it was superstorm Sandy, when he worked closely with a Democratic president running for re-election.)
“The comparison rankles Christie supporters, but there is some truth to it,” writes Maggie Haberman in Politico.com. “Both are tough-talking ex-prosecutors from the tri-state area. Christie is being cast as the moderate in a potential 2016 primary, just as Giuliani was before he bowed out of the 2008 running.”
It’s unclear, however, just how “moderate” Christie is. And whether that label would ever be seen as positive in today’s Republican Party.