Chris Christie criticized others in the GOP yesterday for spending too much time debating ideas:
I think we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors. Now college professors are fine I guess. Being a college professor, they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about [bold mine-DL]. For our ideas to matter we have to win. Because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.
Last month, Christie was worried about “esoteric” and “intellectual” debates about the government’s surveillance powers because they were supposedly dangerous to national security. Now he is annoyed by would-be academic politicians because no one is going to put their ideas into practice. Either way, what we can draw from this is that Christie seems to find policy debate to be threatening and unwelcome, and he offers us instead a marriage of anti-intellectualism and a willingness to “do anything” necessary to win. The write-up describes this as an appeal for “pragmatism,” but this is just the sort of pragmatism that causes people to recoil from politicians.
Christie later declared:
We need to stop navel gazing. There’s nothing wrong with our principles. We need to focus on winning again. There’s too much at stake for this to be an academic exercise.
Christie speaks as if there has been an excess of reflection and rethinking taking place inside the GOP. If it has been, it has certainly been well-hidden. It doesn’t occur to Christie that there might be some genuine disagreement among Republicans about what “our principles” are. Even if there is “nothing wrong with our principles,” there could be many things wrong with how they have been put into practice.
There may have been a valid point buried somewhere in Christie’s remarks. It’s true that political parties exist to contest elections and hold power, and parties out of power will have little or no chance to put their policy ideas into practice. Even so, a party that is intellectually bankrupt or running on the fumes of an agenda from thirty years ago isn’t one that is likely to be able to compete or govern well. Telling members of that party that they need to start getting back to the important work of winning the next election without worrying too much about why their last time in power was such a disaster is to set the stage for another failed period of Republican rule.