New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answers a question during a campaign event in Manville, N.J., Monday, May 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was asked in mid-May about his political bona fides, he replied, “I’m a damn good Republican and a good conservative Republican.” Believe what he says—especially the “conservative” part.
Sure, Christie goes out of his way to say nice things about President Obama, who worked closely with the governor to provide immediate and essential support to New Jersey communities battered by Superstorm Sandy. And yes, Christie’s been willing to call out some of the most absurd excesses of his fellow Republicans. But these gestures are about style, not policy. The first-term governor has been meticulous about positioning his fall re-election campaign as a “bipartisan” effort. Christie knows that New Jersey, which gave Obama 58 percent of the vote last November and sends two Democrats to the US Senate, has a long history of preferring Republican moderates—like former Senator Clifford Case and former Governor Christine Todd Whitman—over conservatives.
To a greater extent than most Republicans running in the busy 2013 election season (Virginia will also elect a governor this year; New York, Boston, Atlanta, Seattle and other big cities will elect mayors), Christie is mounting the sort of broad-appeal campaign that used to be typical of Grand Old Party contenders at the municipal and state levels. For Christie, this is a strategic necessity. He makes little effort to hide the fact that he is looking for a big win in a big blue state—one that will propel him into contention for the presidency in 2016. While other prospective candidates play it coy, the bodacious governor pops off about “if and when I ever decide to run” for the presidency.
But Christie also knows his party won’t be looking for a Northeastern moderate in 2016. The GOP has never been more conservative than it is now; and while the motivation to win may be powerful, the common wisdom among the folks who actually nominate presidential candidates says that experiments with supposedly “mainstream” figures like John McCain and Mitt Romney will not be repeated. So Christie is executing a delicate maneuver. He needs to run left this year to pump up his gubernatorial re-election vote numbers, and then pivot right in states like Iowa and South Carolina. Amid all the gamesmanship, it’s easy to lose sight of where Christie is really coming from—unless you look at his record.
Christie is no moderate. He’s a social conservative who opposes reproductive rights, has defunded Planned Parenthood and has repeatedly rejected attempts to restore state funding for family planning centers. He has vetoed money for clinics that provide health screenings for women, including mammograms and pap smears. He vetoed marriage equality.
Christie’s consistent when it comes to reading from the right’s playbook. The governor announced early in his tenure that he was pulling New Jersey out of a regional carbon emissions reduction program, and then declared his intention to scale back the state’s renewable energy targets. And in the midst of this election year, he vetoed a plan for early voting—a move that, as the state’s largest newspaper suggested, Christie “knows will play well with Republicans nationally,” given that they “have led previous efforts to suppress voter turnout by curtailing early voting hours.”