The Tea Party’s Biggest Gripe With Christie

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 6 2013 @ 1:02pm

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Dickerson identifies it:

[T]o dissect the issues puts too much emphasis on them. The overarching worry among conservatives will be that no matter what the issue, a man who makes such a fetish of his ability to work with Democrats is going to sell out conservatives in the end. This tension has been at the core of the fight between the Republican Party establishment and grassroots since the 1940s. Sometimes that fight is about policy, but often the candidates are so close in their positions that the fight is more about personality and tactics.

A quote from Michael Bowen’s Roots of Modern Conservatism: Dewey, Taft, and the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party brings this home. “It is important to bear in mind that the major political controversies today do not center about objectives,” said a Republican staffer, “but mainly about methods of attaining objectives.” That was a quote from more than 60 years ago, but could just as easily apply to last month’s fight over defunding Obamacare.

If Christie runs, and the egomania of last night makes it all but inevitable, he will at some point have to encounter and beat a serious Tea Party candidate. It could be Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or both. It will not just be a personality battle. Christie’s positions on climate science, Medicaid expansion, gun control and immigration reform – cited by Chait – are red flags to the base Christianists and extreme libertarians. Given Christie’s temperament, I’d say it will be a very entertaining but brutal battle for the soul of the party. Christie’s embrace of Obama during Sandy, his state’s marriage equality, his Northeastern roots, and the big establishment money behind him will also polarize the elites and the base. And his political style is not exactly to pour oil on troubled waters. He’ll say something mean and nasty at some point, and it could either cement his stature or make him look very small.

I can see him trashing Paul as someone who’s never run anything and who’s a surrender monkey in foreign policy. I can also see him lambasting Cruz for his recklessness and extreme partisanship. I guess what I’m saying is that I doubt he can win the nomination without a deep and damaging divide emerging – and maybe even a third Tea Party candidate. That’s not a good starting point for a general election, however wide his appeal in the country at large.

Don’t get me wrong.

I think Christie’s pugnacity will resonate in the South – especially with his unreconstructed, Jacksonian neoconservatism and Cheney-style view of civil liberties. I think he can reach what’s left of the Reagan Democrats. I think he can appeal to the populist anti-Washington mood. I think he is the perfect foil to Obama’s temperament – and voters tend to like a candidate who is a corrective to the president he succeeds. I think he could beat Hillary Clinton quite easily if that were the match-up, and if he doesn’t do or say something against her that alienates female voters.

But I also see his massive ego doing a great deal of internecine damage in the primaries, and deepening some of the base’s fear of supporting – yet again – someone who is not one of their own. The GOP’s best candidate may be their most divisive. But of course, these are distant speculations – to be dragged up in the future, I’m sure, when they are proven completely wrong.

But he’s a force all right. And one the Democrats under-estimate at their peril.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie talk on the boardwalk as they view rebuilding efforts following last year’s Hurricane Sandy in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, on May 28, 2013. By Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty.)