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Christie’s “Garish Controversies”

Amid all of the pro-Christie hype ahead of tomorrow’s New Jersey gubernatorial election, Chris Cillizza observes that he has so far faced very little scrutiny as a national political figure:

He had never held any sort of high profile office prior to running for governor in 2009. That race was almost entirely defined by the problems of incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D). Democrats failed to recruit a serious challenger to Christie in his 2013 re-election bid. Add it all up and you get a simple conclusion: Chris Christie has never come under anything close to the sort of hard vetting that he would face if he ran for president.

As Cillizza points out, Christie has benefited from very weak political competition. His gubernatorial election opponents have been tainted by scandal or acting as a placeholder with no chance of winning, and he has been running in off-year elections that normally favor whichever party doesn’t hold the White House. On the basis of these victories, Christie is being touted as the answer to the GOP’s electoral woes. Neither election has put Christie under the kind of critical scrutiny that he would face in a presidential race, and just based on what turned up from Romney’s VP vetting process Christie has many more questionable things that he’ll have to explain than his rivals. Cillizza quotes from Peter Hamby’s review of the Heilemann and Halperin book:

His “disturbing” research file is littered with “garish controversies,” the authors write: a Justice Department investigation into his free-spending ways as U.S. attorney, his habit of steering government contracts to friends and political allies, a defamation lawsuit that emerged during a 1994 run for local office, a politically problematic lobbying career that included work on behalf of a financial firm that employed Bernie Madoff.

Just one of these stories would normally be enough of a problem to wound or even derail a presidential candidacy, and Christie has several of them. It’s true that Christie has by far the highest favorability ratings of all prominent Republicans, but these have been shaped by the mostly flattering and positive national coverage he has received thus far. Christie already has great name recognition, but in spite of that his record is not very well-known, and as it becomes more familiar he may not be nationally popular for very long.

By all accounts, Christie is on pace to win re-election by a huge margin, but it is a mistake to assume that he would be able to replicate anything like that on the national level. A governor can have great success in his home state because he has a much better understanding of the political landscape, but that doesn’t mean that he will be able to translate that success to other parts of the country or that he can deliver a national victory for his party.

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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