I like Chris Christie. I’d like to see him run for president. But…
The Republican governor of New Jersey is viewed as a moderate Republican, one not necessarily in line with social conservatives and someone about whom Tea Party Republicans might be skeptical. As Robert Costa outlines in a National Review article, Christie has stepped on some toes, not just the ultra-conservative ones. And he’s trying to mend those fences, to mix metaphors, as he prepares for a possible 2016 run for the presidency.
It’s too early for folks like me to have strong opinions about the 2016 field of candidates, but I’m excited about the possibility of a Christie candidacy because Christie is a doer, not just a talker. He doesn’t just spout off about opposition to this liberal policy or that Obama initiative. He gets things done. That doesn’t mean he’s a “speak softly and carry a big stick” kind of guy. Au contraire. He’s a “speak loudly and….well, you got a problem with that?” fellow.
And that’s what I like the most about him. He doesn’t back down. He doesn’t accept The Premise, that is, the back story behind most questions thrown at conservatives by opponents and liberal media, a premise than can often be summarized thus: Republicans are mean-spirited, greedy, rich SOBs who don’t give a dang about anyone but themselves. He not only rejects that notion. He rubs the questioner’s face in its falseness.
That’s refreshing to any conservative who’s watched as our leaders struggle to answer questions as if the interviewer really did want to know their opinion instead of looking for a gotcha moment they can replay endlessly during the 24/7 cable news cycle. Christie knows how that game is played. If anything is going into Viral Video Land, he will control it. And it will be In Your Face. He doesn’t care if it’s flattering. He just won’t accept The Premise.
So it’s with great admiration that I view Gov. Christie. That said, here are a few pieces of advice as his candidacy starts rolling:
1. Don’t diss social conservatives: You might not agree with them on everything, but respect them. You understand respect. It’s what you expect as a citizen of the Garden State. Look, I don’t agree with social conservatives on a lot of things, but I am appalled with the lack of respect they and their ideas get from mainstream media and so-called moderate Republicans. Especially right-to-life advocates–they are often portrayed as unthinking Bible-thumping zealots a hair’s breadth away from offing an abortionist. (Don’t believe me? Just watch a few episodes of Law & Order.) Show them you respect them and you’ll listen to them. But don’t dismiss them as cranks, bigots, idiots or any other name they’ve heard a thousand times from opponents. Defend them instead.
2. Don’t diss the Tea Party: See above. Let me add that Tea Party activists have been unfairly maligned as racists and worse when their main focus has been fiscal conservativism. That’s your ballpark, Governor Christie. You should be standing shoulder to shoulder with them.
3. Be prepared to answer questions about your choice of school for your kids: You got yourself into Viral Video Land with your smackdown of someone asking about where your kids go to school. Props to you for being a fiercely protective dad. But…if you’re advocating school policies that affect all parents, own the personal policy choices you make as a parent. Be as proud of your school choice as you would hope other parents would be if you could free the system from its shackles to local geography. While your kids are definitely off-limits for discussion, your choice as a parent about their schooling should not be. Own it. Be proud of it. Explain why you want all parents to be able to do the same.
4. Be wary of failed political consultants: It amazes me how so many campaign consultants who have nothing but a long list of lost elections on their resumes end up getting high-level jobs on the next campaign….or guest spots on failing cable news networks. Sure, no consultant has an unblemished winning record. But try to avoid the ones who’ve lost virtually every campaign they’ve worked on. Unless they bring some special technical knowledge to the table, they’re not going to offer you anything that they didn’t offer before. And when things start getting heated, they’ll be the first ones leaking unflattering stories to the media.
5. Be pragmatic, yes, but principled, first: One of Governor Romney’s problems for many conservatives was his health care plan in Massachusetts, which was something of a model for Obamacare. RomneyCare was the epitome of pragmatism: trying to solve a vexing issue with practical solutions. Everyone admires those who roll up their sleeves to get things done, to solve problems. But sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself if the solution will ultimately be worse than the problem. If the answer is yes, it’s time to step away from the pragmatic and reach for the principled. I think you understand this, maybe more so than Gov. Romney did. Be ready with examples of lines you won’t cross, principles that mean more to you than easy solutions.
That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’m sure other voices will chime in with their own suggestions. One that I don’t think you need is this: Be your own man. You already seem to have that one down pat.