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Chris Christie and “New Republicans”

Nate Cohn uses the example of “New Democrat” Bill Clinton to think about the potential of a Christie presidential campaign:

There’s a historical precedent: Bill Clinton. He was ostensibly a “New Democrat,” even though he was pro-choice, supported higher taxes, a universal health care system, gun control, and expanded rights for gays in the military. Rather than abandon core elements of the Democratic agenda, Clinton softened the edges on unreformed welfare, crime, middle class taxes, and said abortion should be “rare,” even if it should remain legal.

Today’s “New Republican” might not look very different from Chris Christie. He or she would preserve the core elements of the Republican agenda, but might retreat on a few symbolic but ultimately incidental issues—like immigration reform. He or she would stress pragmatism, the ability to work with both parties, and routinely distinguish him or herself from the party’s extremists.

The comparison with Clinton would work if there were any evidence that Christie was interested in breaking with the national party on more than one or two issues. As far as I can tell, he isn’t. Dave Weigel’s report on the New Jersey gubernatorial race mentions that Christie’s re-election bid has been largely devoid of policy specifics, which suggests that any “rebranding” that would take place under Christie has little to do with substantive changes in the party’s agenda.

Notably absent from Cohn’s description of the “New Democrats” is their support for a more hawkish foreign policy. That represented a significant change from the previous Democratic nominees. To the extent that Christie has expressed any views on foreign policy or national security, he has placed himself firmly on the side of the party’s hard-liners, and there’s no reason to expect that to change. He has given no indication that he thinks that the party should adopt a less hawkish foreign policy to bring it more in line with public opinion, and he probably doesn’t even recognize that foreign policy is now a liability for the party. He has been doing the opposite of what Clinton did in relation to his party’s established foreign policy views, and he has positioned himself as an opponent of those in his party advocating for foreign policy restraint. If Christie is the model, there doesn’t appear to be very much new about “New Republicans.”

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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