Feature: Is NJ Governor Chris Christie A Mad Man?
Some of his positions seem pretty moderate. Unlike Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers, Christie doesn’t talk about border fences or the constitutionality of the Commerce Clause. He’s Catholic but rarely mentions it. (“To him, I’d guess [faith] has nothing to do with politics,” says Tom Wilson, a Republican lobbyist and Christie campaign adviser. “It’s an irrelevant topic.”) He’s an ex-prosecutor who supports gun control and once donated to Planned Parenthood (although he’s now pro-life). He said it was wrong for Republicans to “demagogue” on immigration reform or make a “political football” out of the mosque at Ground Zero, and he worked with the Obama administration to set up a $141 million insurance pool under the health-care reform law.
At the same time, Christie has swaggered into a number of fights. He wants to annex the casino district of Atlantic City, and he made a surprise visit to the headquarters of the Delaware River Port Authority to embarrass DRPA leaders into making ethical reforms. Pretty much every day before breakfast, Christie rips the state’s Democrat-aligned teachers union, the NJEA, as “fat and entitled and sanctimonious and self-serving.” And in June, he coerced a Democratic legislature into passing a drastic budget: Christie cut $820 million for public schools, $445 million in aid to municipalities, $33 million for transit, $173 million for higher education, and more than $5 million for school nutrition programs for poor children, all while handing a $900 million tax cut to the richest 63,000 taxpayers. National conservatives didn’t know you could get away with that in a blue state — certainly not while winning the Virginia Tea Party Patriots presidential straw poll, edging out Sarah Palin, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich.
“It’s a really hopeful formula, because [Christie] has been able to fire up the base without engaging in demonization of President Obama or playing to the far-right, social-conservative crowd,” says John Avlon, former aide to Rudy Giuliani and author of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America. “He’s fighting real fights.” Christie has rocketed from chubby, semi-obscure prosecutor to GOP savior in 10 short months. And it’s a testament to his gifts as a communicator — he may be the most instinctual GOP speaker since Reagan — that Christie has done so almost entirely on the power of bluster. “I think the country loves it,” says Carolee Adams, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group. “I think the country absolutely loves this bombastic, mean and nasty man.”