Apparently on the grounds that someone popular among the people they need to win an election is too suspect to be nominated by them, some conservatives are trying to minimize New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s chances to reach higher office as ardently as he is trying to downsize his weight.
Like Groucho Marx, who said he would never join a club that wanted him in it, they think a man who could actually win the White House for them must be too flawed to deserve their endorsement.
What they want is a candidate who checks every box on their long list of items, bothers no faction or interest group, does nothing to court anyone outside of their base, and yet wins many votes from the 60% of the country that isn’t conservative. Wonders, it seems, will not cease.
Nor will their belief that conservatives win, and moderates lose, in all big elections, and that ideology looms over all. But conservatives (like moderates and liberals) lose all the time — because they’re bad candidates, luck deserts them, bad timing, or conditions beyond their control.
Ronald Reagan won landslides, but Richard Nixon, now called a big-government squish in some circles, won one as big in his re-election, and Barry Goldwater, as blood-red as Reagan, carried no more than eight states.
Conservatives rail at campaigns run by Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney, but when asked to name right-wingers who could have run and done better, cannot cite any.
It’s not that The Establishment quashed brilliant conservative leaders. It’s that they didn’t exist.
Reagan and Goldwater had the same ideology, but differed greatly in talent and tone. Voters feared Goldwater might bomb the men’s room in the Kremlin, but Reagan won the election in the debate when he convinced wavering centrists that the nuclear button would be safe in his hands.
Dole didn’t lose because he was a moderate, but because he was old, and Clinton, once he triangulated, managed to grow the economy. McCain didn’t lose because he was a moderate — he was ahead when the market imploded.
Romney didn’t lose because he was a moderate, but because he was a businessman who never learned to speak politics, because Obama claimed he made fortunes by firing people, and because, as one voter put it, he had been “too rich for too long.”
Christie is not rich and he looks more like someone whom Romney might fire than someone who sits on his board. Like Reagan, he is a “cultural Democrat,” but while Reagan invented the “Reagan Democrats,” Christie resembles them, with his everyman manner and Ralph Kramden vibe.
He is leading by 20-plus points in a state that went twice for Obama, not by aping Obama, but by taking him on. Facing a $1 billion deficit, he balanced the budget, while resisting new taxes.
“Unafraid to target teachers, ... [he] pushed for school boards to freeze teacher pay and require that [they] contribute more to their health care benefits,” says writer Matt Purple. “He ultimately approved a series of reforms that will save the state $120 billion over 30 years in pension funding, and $3.1 billion over 10 years.”
The most important conservative gains in the Obama years have not come from purists throwing red meat to more purists who love them already, but from Scott Walker and Christie beating sense into skeptics in purple and blue states and making them like it.
“Bearing witness” wins points in religion but little in politics, where belief counts only when you persuade other people — and turn your belief into deeds.