As Republicans lament the shortcomings of their eight presidential candidates, efforts to get a more exciting candidate are ongoing. The drum beat for some unlikely options hasn’t ceased, even when the person in question, like Rudy Giuliani, would make a terrible candidate.
Pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and William Kristol have recently said they’d like Texas Governor Rick Perry to get in the race. But since Perry is a theocratic extremist that does little for the party’s moderate moneybags.
Curiously, many socially moderate big GOP donors have continued to sit on their hands even after former China Ambassador Jon Huntsman got in the race with a record and message aimed squarely at them. Some financiers have given to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who attempts to bridge the mainstream/right wing divide by running on a moderate, technocratic record with a platform that consists of flip-flops to outlandish right wing positions. (We are meant to believe, for example, that this former advocate of gay rights and abortion rights wants to amend the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage.)
So who are the Wall Street Republicans pining for? Chris Christie, New Jersey’s belligerent governor. Are you confused? So am I, and so is Jonathan Chait. Christie has become a YouTube sensation with the conservative base because he is prone to angry, blunt and condescending outbursts towards villains like public school teachers at town halls. This has not made him popular in New Jersey. His recent poll numbers are low. According to Public Policy Polling results released Wednesday, 43 percent of New Jersey voters approve of the job Christie is doing while 53 percent disapprove. That’s a negative 13 point swing from the last PPP poll on the question, in January.
The fact that Christie, who only got into office by beating an unpopular incumbent in a strong off-year election for Republicans, might not win re-election in 2013 is, perversely, why his backers want him to run for president now. Strike while the iron is still lukewarm!
And so, despite Christie’s repeated insistence that he won’t run in 2012, top Republicans keep begging him to. In May five Iowa Republican donors flew to New Jersey to personally ask Christie to get in the race. Earlier this week major Republican donors gathered to implore him once again to run. Politico’s Mike Allen reported Wednesday in Playbook:
Fifty of the most prized donors in national politics, including several hedge-fund billionaires who are among the richest people in the world, schlepped to a Manhattan office or hovered around speakerphones Tuesday afternoon as their host, venture capitalist Ken Langone (pronounced LAN-goan), a co-founder of The Home Depot, implored New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to reconsider and seek the GOP presidential nomination…. Langone backed Rudy Giuliani in 2008, and his guests came from both parties, although most were moderate Republicans. Most are uncommitted in the presidential race…. Several of them said: I’m Republican but I voted for President Obama, because I couldn’t live with Sarah Palin.
Why are these moderates attracted to Christie? His record is that of a doctrinaire reactionary. He has made brutal, heartless cuts to nursing homes and facilities for people with special needs, resulting in risks to the health of and diminished freedom for New Jersey residents with disabilities. He opposes abortion rights and cut funding to family planning clinics. He opposes marriage equality and says he would veto a bill allowing it. Christie withdrew from a regional plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and he has proposed cutting support for renewable energy. In short, none of the hallmarks of a moderate Republican, such as support for the environment or abortion rights, can be found in Christie’s record. Just because he is governor of New Jersey doesn’t make him Christine Todd Whitman.
And it isn’t only on issues of moral judgment that Christie parts ways with Wall Street moderates. Christie is by no means a technocratic manager in the Bloomberg mold. As a devastating profile in Philadelphia magazine demonstrated, Christie’s management style can best be described as bombastic, incompetent and dishonest. He cuts questionable deals with New Jersey’s Democratic power brokers. He makes irrational, ideologically driven decisions, such as refusing to build a much needed rail tunnel under the Hudson River, which would pay for itself in economic growth and efficiency. And he fails at simple tasks of governance, such as properly submitting New Jersey’s application for Race to the Top funds.
The only plausible explanation for why moderate Republican donors would pine for Chris Christie to get in the race is that they are desperately seeking someone who can unite the Tea Party and mainstream segments of the party. Christie is a former federal prosecutor and he seems a bit sharper than, say, Sarah Palin. He may be a reliable conservative, but he’s not as extremist and incendiary as Michele Bachmann. He would excite the right-wing base more than Tim Pawlenty. And moderate Republicans fear that their current options—Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman—are too weak among conservatives to win in Iowa and South Carolina. Christie is appealing, in other words, if you are trying to head off a right wing upset of Romney from Bachmann or someone like her.
Of course, if you want a moderate, responsible, pro-business candidate with a real chance of winning in 2012, there is already one in the race. His name is Barack Obama.