Desperate Republicans, panicking over the pathetically weak field of presidential hopefuls (a Fox focus group declared the winner of last week’s GOP debate to be Godfather Pizza founder Herb Cain), are still holding out hope that New Jersey governor Chris Christie doesn’t really mean it when he swears he won’t run in 2012. Even heartland conservatives are certain that the tough-talking East Coaster—who to much of the country reads like the offspring of Tony Soprano and Snookie—is their long-awaited Great White Hope.
On May 31, a group of small-government Iowa Republicans will make a pilgrimage to the governor’s mansion in Princeton, NJ, to urge him to close his eyes and think of the party. Headed by businessman Bruce Rastetter, the Iowa delegation played an important role in returning Republican Terry Branstad to the Iowa governor’s office last year, so they may feel they’re on a roll. "There isn't anyone like Chris Christie on the national scene for Republicans," Rastetter told the AP. "And so we believe that he, or someone like him, running for president is very important at this critical time in our country."
But have these people read up on Christie lately? Their fantasy of a wildly popular and invincible Jersey guy has already gone stale. In fact, Christie’s approval ratings have been sliding downhill ever since he took office almost 16 months ago.
The man would even lose a presidential race in his own state: New Jerseyans would vote for President Obama over Christie 52 to 39, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll (taken last month before the bin Laden killing). Unbeloved at home, Christie’s 47 percent approval/46 percent disapproval rating is down from 52-40 in February. More important, his gender gap is huge--men approve of him 56-38 percent while women disapprove 53-38 percent. And when asked for one word that best describes the governor, by far the term that most often sprung unprompted to Jersey lips was “bully.”
Even in Joisey (full disclosure, I live here myself) being a rude son of a bitch—like telling students to their faces that their teachers don’t care about them—eventually makes people sour on you. Of course it doesn’t help that Christie’s hit the state with killer cuts—slashing teacher, police, and social service jobs—while refusing to restore the expired “millionaire’s tax.” Or that his high-handed interpersonal abrasiveness cost the state $400 million in federal “Race to the Top” education funds. (His numbers have also taken a dive in the decidedly pro-choice state for supporting anti-abortion activists, though that would obviously play well elsewhere.)
And apparently those besotted Iowans haven’t heard about Christie’s latest bullheaded move: He wants to expand Xanadu, the ill-fated, checkerboard-patterned, ultra-mega-blow-your-eyes-out mall/entertainment/polluting complex that two private companies have already sunk $2 billion into over seven years and still can't seem to open. It’s the longest-running losing battle America’s ever fought, except for the Afghan war.
As WNYC public radio’s Bob Hennelly writes, Christie held a press conference last week at the “moribund site” to announce that he wants to give $200 million dollars in state funds to yet another developer to finish the project. Because 2 million square feet of mall—at a time when malls are shutting down across the country—ain’t big enough, the new project will add another million square feet. If the project is ever finished, it’s supposed to be the largest such entity in the world, and will include a Hawaii-themed water park and a 16-story indoor ski slope, which will emit high rates of greenhouse gas to keep the “snow” frozen year-round. The developer, and presumably Christie, even wants to increase layover times for international passengers at Newark Liberty Airport, so they'll be bored enough to hitch a shuttle to the mall, now rebranded the "American Dream@Meadowlands.”
“Of course there were no critics at the presser,” Hennelly writes, but longtime Xanadu critic, NJ Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel, told him, “’The American Nightmare Mall will be the biggest source of greenhouse gasses in NJ after the governor. The governor can give $200-$350 million to subsidize a mall, but will kill a mass-transit project.’” He’s referring to Christie's order to kill an already-in-progress rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York, the largest shovel-ready infrastructure project in the country when the Great Recession hit, for fear of cost overruns. Now Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is demanding that NJ repay the $271 million the feds already spent on the tunnel because Christie broke existing contracts to kill it.
So, the GOP’s would-be white knight is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds on a private corporate project that has little chance of succeeding but will create all sorts of environmental problems, yet he won’t follow through on a joint federal-state project certain to create thousands of jobs and simultaneously take a gazillion cars off the road.
The Republican field itself—from Trump and Newt to Palin and Huckabee--is something like Xanadu: designed for the ‘90s, a bunch of gas-guzzling, money-wasting, high-fructose entertainers spinning as if we have nothing to do but amuse ourselves to death, when in fact we need to build infrastructure that will create jobs in a modern economy. The Republicans—no matter who they nominate—will almost inevitably turn any great white hope into a great white elephant.