Chris Christie didn’t make it, but Scott Walker did.
We’re talking about Time magazine’s latest list of the “100 most influential people.” In the past, Christie has been on the list—but not this year. Instead, the Wisconsin governor, who made himself famous by gutting his state’s public sector unions, was named to Time’s list of influentials. In a sign of good sportsmanship—and an indication that Christie, too, has established a record of bashing teachers and other state employees—Christie penned the tribute to him for the publication. Despite relentless attacks from opponents, said Christie, Walker stood firm in his beliefs and, in fact, liberated public sector workers:
His battle to bring fairness to the taxpayers through commonsense reform of the public-sector collective-bargaining laws brought him scorn from the special interests and a recall election. Despite these threats, he stood tall. His reforms have brought tax reductions to his citizens and economic growth to his state. They have allowed public workers the freedom to choose whether to belong to a union.
Walker previously has thanked Christie for giving him the courage to go after state employee unions and benefits. Christie campaigned for Walker during his 2012 re-election effort and Walker lauded him then for providing a model for what he wanted to do in Wisconsin:
While campaigning for Walker, Christie told Wisconsin voters that if they re-elected Walker they could follow New Jersey down the path of economic recovery.
Introducing him as a “good friend” who campaigned for him twice in 2010, Walker said Christie gave him “a sense of courage a year before I took office because he was doing it in arguably one of the toughest places in the country.”
But in fact New Jersey has had one of the slowest recoveries from the 2007–08 recession. The latest unemployment statistics show the state unemployment rate in March at 7.2 percent, up slightly from the previous month and higher than the neighboring states of New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. New Jersey lost about 1,300 jobs and its unemployment rate is above the national average of 6.7 percent.
Still, as head of the Republican Governors Association, Christie is just doing his job. Even though Walker is a long-shot rival of Christie’s for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016—a nod that, more and more, looks like it could go to Jeb Bush—it’s Christie’s job to help Walker, who is currently engaged in a hotly contested re-election bid in Wisconsin. And Christie, who’s helped the RGA raise fundraising to record levels this year, is doing his part.
Whether or not the economy—and union-bashing—is a selling point for Republican candidates in 2014, the party can always resurrect the tough-on-crime rhetoric that’s been their hallmark since the 1960s. That’s what the RGA is trying with new ads they put out in the South Carolina governor’s race. The ad, nominally an attack on the Democratic candidate, is actually as assault on a fundamental principle of constitutional law in the United States—namely, the right to a trial by jury. And it’s already backfiring.
An RGA television piece attacks Democratic gubernatorial candidate and trial lawyer, Vincent Sheheen, for doing, well, what trial lawyers are supposed to do: representing people accused of crimes. Despite the fact that even people accused of committing violent crimes have the right to a fair trial, the ad criticizes Sheheen for representing them, saying:
Trial lawyer Vincent Sheheen made money off criminals [and] represented others charged with violent acts.… What about the ones who paid him? Vincent Sheheen protects criminals, not us.
In releasing the ad, the RGA underscored that its direct attack at the heart of the criminal justice system was not a mistake. RGA Communications Director Gail Gitcho doubled down on the charge that Sheheen defends criminals, not South Carolina. On its website the RGA says:
The Republican Governors Association released a new television advertisement today in the South Carolina governor’s race which shines light on Democrat candidate Vincent Sheheen’s career as a trial lawyer, dedicated to defending violent criminals.
This attack on fundamental human rights was too much even for one of Chris Christie’s lawyers, who ironically represents the Christie campaign and the New Jersey Republican State Committee in the scandals surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane closures. “I did watch the ad and, wow, it’s a disgrace,” Robert D. Luskin, a partner at Patton Boggs, told The Huffington Post in an e-mail. He added:
“The people who talk incessantly about American exceptionalism ought to demonstrate some understanding—and some respect—for what makes our system truly admirable: that includes the willingness of lawyers to stand up for their clients no matter how ugly the allegation. But a lawyer is only, ever an advocate; he’s not a co conspirator or an enabler.… One would certainly hope that an organization like the RGA would also show some respect for the institutions that make our country special.”
As the article also notes, “Luskin and his colleague Mark Sheridan are representing the Christie campaign and New Jersey Republican State Committee in connection with a federal investigation into the temporary shutdown of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.”