Peter Beinart hears in Gov. Chris Christie’s “rhetorical assault on John Boehner over Sandy aid” the “beginnings of a new, Bush-like anti-Washington Republican centrism.”
He goes on:
In 2012, Mitt Romney didn’t dare put much distance between himself and the national GOP, especially during the primaries. But Christie has already shown that post–fiscal cliff, with Washington Republicans in disarray and the GOP’s anti-tax orthodoxy cracking, Republicans are more open to leaders who define themselves against their party’s leadership, even if that means tacking somewhat to the center.
I’m not sure it’s the case that Republicans are “more open” to such figures, but the blunt-talking, Obama-hugging Christie is obviously thinking along these lines. And so, likely, is Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has fashioned for himself a reputation as a pragmatic, “creative conservative” problem-solver.
So let’s take it as a given, for our purposes, that Christie and McDonnell, if one or both of them chooses to enter the presidential race, will run in some sense “against Congress” and all its dysfunction. They will contrast their effectual executive leadership with electeds like Rep. Paul Ryan and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, each of whom will have to defend votes on the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling, the continuing budget resolution, budget sequestration, and any other exotic-seeming Washington-centric controversy of the next four years.
There is one sense, however, in which the ideological wing of the party has boxed in the governors, and that’s on the Ryan budget, and Medicare premium support. On this, Christie and McDonnell are fully bought-in. A Republican Governors Association letter co-signed by Christie and McDonnell, as well as Govs. Rick Perry and Haley Barbour, stated that the Ryan budget “halts the out of control spending spree of recent years, and imposes a back to basics, fiscal disciple that voters clearly asked for in [2010’s] mid-term elections [sic].” In his convention speech last summer, Christie obliquely defended premium support: “We believe in telling seniors the truth about our overburdened entitlements. We know seniors not only want these programs to survive, but they just as badly want them secured for their grandchildren.”
Christie and McDonnell may try to run against process, gridlock, and unseemly sausage-making. (Rand Paul, meanwhile, will try emphasize his libertarian sensibilities and foreign policy realism to distinguish himself from his colleagues.) But on substantive budgetary matters, the size and scope of the federal government, they cannot run from Ryan. And if Ryan himself is on the ballot, that could prove significant.