Chris Christie on How He Broke the Unions

The hand that does the breaking

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

One downside of picking fights with factions of your party is that those factions can show up to your speeches. Chris Christie demanded, and thought he got, an off-the-record speech to the Republican National Committee. But someone in the room recorded the whole thing and gave it to James Hohmann, whose reporting produced the umpteenth Christie spat. “I’m not going to be one of these people who’s going to come and call our party stupid,” he said. That’s seen as a rap on Bobby Jindal, even though Jindal has since (in the pages of Politico!) agreed that the party should stop wearing the hairshirt.

I thought Christie’s proud boast of how he’d broken the unions was more interesting. He described the New Jersey Education Association as the bully “standing there with their arms folded across their chest staring at you” when you’re new in school, and declared that he’d beaten them. Which he had.

“We have the endorsement of 24 building-trade unions,” he said. “We have an opportunity as a political party to drive a wedge in the union movement, and the laboratory where that’s happening right now is in my state.”

One problem: How much of this is long-term and how much is benefiting only Christie? The governor decisively beat the unions in 2010 and 2011, but when the November 2011 elections came, his Republicans lost a seat in the Assembly and gained nothing in the Senate. In the last Quinnipiac poll, 20 percent of voters said they were more likely to back a legislative candidate if Christie did, and 17 percent said they were less likely—basically a wash. In the previous poll, by a 15-point margin, an electorate that planned to vote for Christie said it preferred a Democratic legislature.

Christie cleverly avoided a busy general election by scheduling the special U.S. Senate race (which Cory Booker will win in a landslide) a few weeks before the state races. That might lead to a Republican upset. If it doesn’t, Christie will win in the manner Richard Nixon won his presidential elections—a sweeping personal victory with little benefit down the ballot.