New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is up for reelection in 2013. He stepped on quite a few toes in his first term, and New Jersey’s activist Democratic base—especially the teachers unions—will spare no expense in unseating him. He will need the votes of moderates and conservative Democrats to win a second term.
Now is a useful opportunity to dissect the moderate mind. Moderates are defined more by appearances than by substance, more by what they are not than by what they are. Generally they reject partisanship on both sides. They oppose gridlock and want leaders who can get something done—no matter what that something is. So, they plant themselves in the open-minded middle. It’s a vain political position for uninformed people who lack an ideological core.
The earlier Christie establishes kinship with these voters, the better. Hurricane Sandy presented an opportunity to do just that. That’s why he praised President Obama for doing next to nothing during the disaster relief effort. Doing so lent him a patina of bipartisan pragmatism that unprincipled moderates eat up. He aggressively eschewed “presidential politics” (i.e., a Romney visit to the state), aligning himself with the moderates’ disdain for politics. Finally, he struck a nativist chord in his representation of New Jersey to the national media. Most people tend to side with their own leaders against the outside world, even if they complain about them in private.
Any boost Christie’s actions may have given to President Obama was incidental. At the time, Obama had his own problems with moderates and independents. Polls showed him trailing Mitt Romney in that demographic. Which is why Obama, like Christie, exploited the situation to curry their favor.
Had Republicans taken control of the White House and the Senate, the narrative of a “maverick” Chris Christie would already have been established. In the last year of his first term as governor, he would have exploited opportunities to defy the Republican-controlled federal government in order to appeal to moderates and position himself for reelection.
Alas, that didn’t happen. Christie’s reelection odds shrank with the federal government remaining in Democratic hands. Moderates are more likely to be unmoved by Christie’s hosannas to Obama than they would have been by his pokes in the eye to Romney. Now, Christie is more likely than not to lose his reelection bid, as if there was ever any doubt the Garden State would remain among the bluest of blue.
For conservatives who prefer our Republican leaders to be good on paper, bad in bed (as opposed to bad on paper, good in bed), losing Christie is a net plus. For the rest of you, enjoy him while he’s still in office.