How Christie Could Break Through

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 15 2013 @ 5:21pm

Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund Press Conference

The CW right now is that Chris Christie has been too pally with president Obama and is too socially liberal for the Christianist GOP. And there’s a lot of truth in that. He remains an unlikely nominee for those reasons, as well as being another Northeasterner in a Southern party. But Southern white voters love the Jacksonian rhetoric of violence and, whatever the substance, they will love this big fat guy beating up Hillary Clinton. Today, in a speech he gave to the RNC in Boston, we got a flavor of the kind of language that comes as second nature to Christie:

“You got two choices as a governor. You either sidle up next to [the teacher’s unions] and whisper sweet nothings in their ear or try to hope they don’t punch you. Or your second alternative is you punch them first.”

The key aspect of Christie’s strategy is also surely this: the current Congressional GOP is deeply unpopular and the right is increasingly enamored of its concoction of pure “constitutional conservatism” of the Mark Levin variety. The Randian discourses of Paul Ryan will not really rally the Republican gut in 2016. So Christie will portray the exploration of these ideas – good and bad – as a waste of time. And so he did today:

“I think we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors. Now college professors are fine I guess. Being a college professor, they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about. For our ideas to matter we have to win. Because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.”

He even threw a few barbs at Jindal – along with, by implication, Paul and Cruz. And the crowd was wowed:

“It was really great,” said Indiana committeeman Jim Bopp. “Successful politics is a matter of heeding your principles, implementing them, but also being pragmatic about what you can accomplish and need to win. You can’t govern if can’t win.”

Cindy Costa, a national committeewoman from South Carolina, called the speech “amazing.”

“It was impressive. I forgot about the Obama bear hug,” said Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, referring to Christie’s tour of the New Jersey coastline with President Obama just days before last year’s presidential election, a moment of bipartisan harmony that rankled GOP activists and top members of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

That’s how he threads the primary needle: by pugnacity eclipsing differences in substance, and by appealing to the party’s raw desire to win back power. The drawback is obvious: speeches like these reek of self-love and contempt for anyone who differs with him. Some dissenters observed that he came off like “a pompous ass.” And that irascible, take-no-prisoners rhetoric does not come off as presidential to me. It works as a governor in a Democratic state, but not at a national level.

Nonetheless, I don’t believe anyone should under-estimate the core appeal of this man to a party desperate to regain the initiative after being foiled brilliantly and repeatedly by Obama in his cool way. Hillary will be a far less formidable opponent because the wingnuts get under her skin in a way that they don’t under Obama’s. So remember today what Christie’s telling us about the future:

I am going to do anything I need to do to win.

And believe it.

(Photo: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attends the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund Press Conference at Sayreville Borough Hall on July 8, 2013 in Sayreville, New Jersey. By Michael Loccisano/Getty Images.)