Last week, it came out that New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie refused to campaign for Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor's race, which no doubt contributed to Cuccinelli's loss. The jovial, fun-loving, charismatic Christie is wildly popular, with the second highest approval rating of Republican governors. He won re-election in Democratic-stronghold New Jersey by a landslide last week, with 60 percent of the vote to his Democrat challenger's 39 percent.
Christie and the Republican establishment wrote the Virginia gubernatorial race off; the RNC spent only one-third as much money on the race than it did in 2009. Even so, Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat Cuccinelli by just over two percentage points. Cuccinelli won the Independent vote by 9 points, evidence his message was resonating and he wasn't perceived as too extreme for Virginia's swing voters. A Libertarian candidate contributed to his defeat, taking 6.8 percent of the vote. The Libertarian candidate was able to get on the ballot due to a sleazy donation from a billionaire Obama campaign bundler in Texas. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake brazenly admitted the Libertarian candidate would take away votes from Cuccinelli, not the Democrat, saying the day before the election, "I am hopeful for the Libertarian to do well tomorrow."
The morning of his re-election, Christie told a CNN news anchor that he is a conservative. This comes as a surprise to many, since Christie has done numerous things to cast doubt that he is a conservative. He first irritated conservatives on a national scale by appearing with Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, praising him for his leadership and giving him a hug. Only days before the presidential election, the gesture of support hurt Mitt Romney. In May of this year, Christie was back at it, playing a football toss boardwalk game with Obama on the Jersey Shore, ostensibly to promote tourism.
Christie has a history of flip-flopping on issues, or saying one thing but doing another. He went along with the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, after criticizing Obamacare out of the other side of his month. He proposed a package of gun control laws last year after the Sandy Hook shooting, but later backed off and vetoed three gun control bills. He publicly attacked the NRA for one of its ads that mentioned Obama's children.
He endorsed the New Jersey DREAM Act that will provide in-state tuition for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He is fond of sayings like "Compromise is not a dirty word." Christie is a popular guest on the MSNBC show Morning Joe, a show unfriendly to conservatives as host Joe Scarborough has moved away from his conservative roots.
Christie places near the bottom of Republican governors in the Cato Institute's 2012 rankings of governors on fiscal policy, achieving only a 58. He barely beat out the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, who ranked 54. The New York Times writer Nate Silver put together a conservative ranking of Republican governors, based on their fundraising and public issue statements. Christie received the lowest rating of all Republican governors, a nine. The next closest score was Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, with a 15.
As a result of his dubious conservative record, Christie was not invited to CPAC in 2013. A recent editor of The Washington Times calls him a RINO, and advises, "Republicans would do better to build up a leader who actually agrees with the party's platform." Conservative commentator Ann Coulter says that Christie is "dead" to her.
John Nolte writes at Breitbart that Christie's refusal to help Cuccinelli could hurt the GOP's presidential chances, "If Christie wins the 2016 Republican nomination but loses Virginia, and with it the general election, last night should be remembered as the most short-sighted and spiteful cutting off of the nose to spite the Tea Party in years."
To be fair, Christie scored higher on Cato's rankings than several Republican governors considered conservatives, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Christie has cut taxes, vetoed gay marriage, rejected state funding for abortion, gone after the unions, expanded charter schools, ended a "millionaire's tax," and cut the Earned Income Tax Credit.
It would be extremely difficult for Christie to be elected governor as a Republican in liberal New Jersey if he were outspokenly conservative. Perhaps he's in the same situation Mitt Romney was as governor of a very liberal state, forced to be more moderate in order to be electable. Christie is one of few Republicans who have broken through the gender and minority voting gaps. Women voted for him over his female Democrat challenger by 15 points. He won the Hispanic vote by a 6-point margin, and Independents by a whopping 31-point margin.
Most astonishing of all, he won 31 percent of Democratic voters. In fact, polling finds that Christie is more popular with Democrats than Republicans - although this may not really be a good thing. One way Christie might be made more palatable to conservatives is if he were to choose a running mate like Rand Paul, or run as vice president alongside someone like Ted Cruz, as conservative author David Frum has suggested. If Christie genuinely moves to the right, as Reagan did, and Romney would have done if elected, only then should conservatives even begin to consider him as an acceptable candidate. His ability to bring in traditionally Democratic demographics is appealing, but only if he can combine it with a commitment to core conservative principles.
Ultimately, Republicans are probably needlessly fretting about Christie's record. The GOP establishment is not likely to select him for president. The Romney presidential campaign reportedly looked into Christie's background when they were considering him for vice president, and found it "littered with potential land mines." According to a new book, Double Down: Game Change 2012, the Romney campaign discovered "unanswered questions on a defamation lawsuit against the governor from earlier in his political career, on a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement involving Mr. Christie's brother, on names and documentation of his household help, on information from his time as a securities industry lobbyist, and on his medical history."
In this hypercritical era of 24/7 media scrutiny of those in the public eye, Republicans aren't going to get a break. Any candidate they put up for president must have a squeaky clean background, or the left with the help of the complicit and biased media will destroy them. The left-leaning media is fawning all over Christie now, but if he were to make it past a presidential primary, they would turn on him overnight. If Christie can't even make the ticket as vice president, he will never make it to president.