New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is rapidly emerging in some precincts as the hands-down favorite to take down the Democratic machine in the 2016 elections.
With appeal wider than his familiar girth, the former federal prosecutor is poised for a blowout re-election in a heavily Democratic northeastern state.
Crediting his success to being a “tough-as-nails” guy who “spoke the truth bluntly, directly and without much varnish,” Christie invites comparison to another straight-shooting governor beloved even by those who disagreed with him: Ronald Reagan.
What other Republican exudes the moxie to force the Democrats into playing defense north of the Mason-Dixon Line?
Who else but Christie can win New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- electoral prizes that have eluded the GOP since 1988 -- and remain, according to recent polls, the most competitive Republican against Hillary Clinton in Texas, Georgia and Virginia?
And only Christie can reunite southern Protestants and northern Catholics in the center-right Reaganite majority that splintered during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.
None has run a state government or served as vice president, credentials claimed by every Republican president since Richard Nixon.
Nor is Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and establishment favorite, without baggage: No one seems anxious to put a third descendant of Connecticut Sen. Prescott Bush in the White House.
Reflecting the snubbing of Christie by this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, some libertarians claim the Garden State wonder isn’t conservative enough, perhaps because the pragmatic executive doesn’t quote Ludwig von Mises or Ayn Rand.
At wit's ends over the party's fortunes, this crowd looks for every transgression that would ax Christie, claiming his post-Sandy hug with President Obama cost Mitt Romney the 2012 election. They also call him a big spender because he challenged House Republicans on disaster relief.
Not that the outspoken governor is immune from criticism. But like the Great Communicator, Christie stands tall against political opponents and a hostile media while connecting with a broad range of Americans who mirror the class divide of his native Essex County.
The New Jersey heavyweight also knows when to fight and when to fold. Like Reagan, he beat public-sector employee guilds without alienating private-sector trade unions -- in fact, he gained endorsements from several.
Republicans need that kind of political genius to woo working-class Americans attracted to older Democratic economics but alienated by that party's current obsession with environmentalism, multiculturalism and adversarial feminism.
Those who dismiss Christie as just another Republican In Name Only overlook that the observant Catholic is socially conservative.
They also ignore the fact that the father of four was one of only two GOP governors willing to endure media scorn by criticizing the Supreme Court for trashing duly enacted laws that preserve marriage as an institution that models both motherhood and fatherhood.
Christie is living out the lessons he shared from his mother in his 2012 convention keynote speech: “There are times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected.”
Christie is not only a social conservative. Building on commitments to middle-class family ideals, Christie casts the same vision of expanding opportunities, economic mobility and technological progress that animated Reagan, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
He focuses on tangibles like fiscal, tax and education reforms so that more of the nine million souls nestled between New York and Philadelphia can experience what he did as the proud beneficiary of married parents, rising from humble circumstances, who enabled their son to live the American dream.
His outsized connection with average Americans explains why this authentic conservative has one of highest approval ratings of any Republican governor in the country.
And why conservatives should recognize that Christie is best positioned to restore the conservative coalition that triggered three GOP landslides in the 1980s — and win the presidency in 2016.Robert W. Patterson served in the administrations of President George W. Bush and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.