Every poll of New Jersey voters, every poll of national voters, shows the same result: Chris Christie’s post-Hurricane Sandy bluster-leadership combo (blustership) has made him wildly, broadly popular. Other Italian-American tough pols rom the New York media market have risen on the strength of some good crisis management, and didn’t end up becoming president, but it’s a slow news week, and people want to talk about Chris Christie becoming president.
Reid Pillifant points out that Christie polls better against Hillary Clinton (our 2016 Democratic placeholder) than any other Republican. But he’s not the GOP voter’s choice – he trails Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Mike Huckabee in the nomination stakes. Alec MacGillis attempts to correct the hype, arguing that Christie is alienating conservative donors with his pro-government rhetoric.
He’s really let them down by cozying up to Obama and then making a very strong, very high-profile articulation for why functioning government matters and why Ayn Rand isn’t much good in a hurricane. One could argue that this turnabout serves Christie’s admirers right: They loved him for his bluster when it was unleashed against those they scorn, like the teachers’ unions, but bluster can of course easily change direction, and now they’re getting it in the face. Will the winds shift again and the bonds be repaired?
But isn’t 2013 the perfect time to do this? Neither the conservative base nor the lumpen donor class has been particularly consistent about punishing candidates for their occasional flights of crisis liberalism. In 2010, Chris Christie won the presidential straw poll at a Tea Party Patriots meeting I was covering – a meeting in which Ken Cuccinelli was greeted as a god and George Allen was treated like a squish. At that point, he was known only as the loud, YouTube-ready guy who yelled at stupid teacher’s union leaders, and that was good enough for the disciples of Glenn Beck and Dick Armey. A month later, the movement’s fellow travelers in Florida elected Rep. Allen West, who was there when John Boehner needed him on key votes that pissed off the movement – most notably the 2011 debt limit compromise. When West lost, conservative voters interpreted it as a huge movement defeat, even though groups like the Club for Growth had been incredibly disappointed in his actually votes. You get a lot of points on the board for making liberals look stupid.
As to the donor class: Didn’t those people end up forcing Mitt Romney on the GOP? Why wouldn’t they do the same with a candidate who’s to the right of Romney on environmental policy (bowing to pressure to take New Jersey out of a greenhouse gas compact) and labor?