Comeback Christie?

In a radio segment yesterday, the New Jersey governor hinted that he’s still got his eye on 2016, calling the time he spent on the road stumping for other Republicans this campaign season “a good trial run” for himself and his family. Joseph Gallant casts Christie as the biggest off-the-ballot winner in this week’s elections:

Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, says Christie, as he heads into a likely 2016 run for the GOP presidential nomination, stands to benefit in three significant ways: messaging, fundraising, and favor-trading. “First, he got to try out his message all across the nation,” Dworkin told the The American Prospect. “One question about Christie is whether his political style will play in Topeka. He’s now had a chance to travel everywhere across the country to see what works and what doesn’t, all on the RGA’s tab.” …

“He got to meet every major donor in the Republican Party and all of the key political operatives,” Dworkin continued. ”Running for president is a massive undertaking and you need to build a national team that already knows the battleground states. He’s gotten to do that.” 

But Dworkin’s third point could be the clincher for the Garden State governor. “Christie was at the helm when Republicans won huge victories around the country. Not only will he be able to take credit for those wins, but he will have the invaluable resource of governors ‘owing him’ for all the help he provided.”

His actions on Ebola also scored him some points with constituents:

A new poll from Monmouth University shows New Jerseyans approve of his handling of the Ebola situation 53 percent to 27 percent — about two-to-one. The federal government’s response, by contrast, earns negative marks at 37 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval. In addition, Christie’s constituents approve 67-19 of quarantining Hickox after she landed at Newark Airport. Where Christie gets more mixed results is in his decision to release Hickox, amid pressure, to a quarantine in her home in Maine — a quarantine that she later flouted. Thirty-eight percent approve of Christie’s decision here, while 40 percent disapprove. … A recent poll showed 80 percent of Americans supported the concept of some kind of quarantine. So, quelle surprise.

Still, Kilgore just doesn’t see Christie’s tough-guy persona winning over anyone who isn’t already into it:

Here and elsewhere, we’re given the impression that Christie’s now “over” Bridgegate, and back to being the big brawling dominant force the MSM and Republican elites have always loved. … Let me ask you, though: does anyone think being a figurehead for the RGA in a good year is going to cut a lot of ice with the actual on-the-ground activists and voters who will determine the Republican presidential nomination? Is anyone impressed by this other than the people who never stopped loving him? I’ll believe it when Christie no longer has by far the worst approval/disapproval ratio among likely Caucus-goers in Iowa.

Quarantanamo, New Jersey, Ctd

Chris Christie went on TV this morning to defend his mandatory quarantine policy for health workers returning from Ebola-afflicted countries:

“I don’t think it’s draconian,” Christie, appearing on the Today show, said of New Jersey’s mandatory 21-day quarantine on health care workers returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. “The members of the American public believe it is common sense, and we are not moving an inch. Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change.” … The governor also said the CDC has been too slow to change its policies, and is now “incrementally taking steps to the policy we put in effect in New Jersey.” The CDC announced on Monday new guidelines for people traveling from West Africa, but still recommends voluntary at-home isolation rather than state-mandated quarantines.

Ben Wallace-Wells thinks “that Christie, and also [New York Governor] Cuomo, simply misread the nature of the public alarm”:

Despite the tone on cable news, and despite the wildly over-publicized decisions of a few parents in a few school districts to keep their kids home, there hasn’t been a public panic over Ebola. People are still traveling on airplanes. They are not flooding the hospitals with anxieties that minor symptoms might portend Ebola. Everyone whose job it is to predict public opinion seems to have been bracing for a panic. But it hasn’t come.

A dumb and snotty cottage industry has developed in making fun of those who are freaking out. (As I write, the most-viewed story on The New Yorker‘s website is a “humor” column by Andy Borowitz titled, “Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes.”) But really there hasn’t been much excess fear at all.

Earlier Dish on that media coverage here. In Alex Altman’s view, Christie tried to score some political points from the crisis, but his plan backfired:

For Christie, the panic wrought by the lethal virus may have seemed a prime opportunity to run his favorite play: the one where the tough leader takes a common-sense stand in the face of federal dithering. This is the move that drew bipartisan plaudits after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Jersey shore in 2012, and one Christie may hope will propel a possible presidential candidacy in 2016. The play has worked swimmingly when run against teachers’ unions, or bungling bureaucrats, or “idiots” loitering on a stretch of beach in the face of an oncoming storm. It doesn’t wear as well when the target is a nurse who risked her life to fight a deadly disease.

The Bloomberg View editors chastise the governors:

Clearly, their decision was unnecessary and premature. Yet it also displays a worrisome disconnect in national public-health networks. Some amount of public panic is to be expected, and must be addressed. State health officials, however, should know better — both about how Ebola spreads and the dangers of mandatory quarantines. … During the SARS epidemic of 2003, public health officials learned that voluntary quarantines — simply requesting that people who might have infectious illness limit their social interactions for a period of time — are as effective as forced quarantines in helping stem an outbreak.

But Noah Rothman defends Christie from the flak he’s taking from both left and right:

Chris Christie did not deserve the left’s self-satisfied recriminations when he instituted stricter measures aimed at curtailing the spread of Ebola in America, programs which enjoy broad support, and he does not merit the scorn heaped upon him by the right for refusing to indefinitely intern a person who likely does not carry the disease. The right is deeply mistrustful of Chris Christie and, on some level, he has earned their suspicion. In this case, it is clear that apprehension among the right toward Christie is verging on compulsive and insidious. Liberals did not enjoy a victory when [Kaci] Hickox was transferred out of containment, but, by insisting Christie somehow endorsed the White House’s position, the right is busily handing them one.

He Must Be Lying

At least that’s my take on Chris Christie’s insistence on never knowing about the GWB shenanigans, after reading this strong piece of granular reporting from the NYT. The public seems to be slowly seeing that as well:

44 percent believe that Christie mostly is not telling the truth. By comparison, 42 percent say he’s mostly telling the truth.

We should withhold judgment until the investigation is complete … but this, in my judgment, is close to fatal for a potential presidential candidate.

The Other Way To Win Endorsements

Steinglass suggests Christie would have been better off trying to buy Democratic support:

Had Mr Christie offered to build Fort Lee a couple of new on-ramps to the George Washington Bridge after receiving an endorsement, political junkies might have chuckled a bit, and that would have been about it. Mr Christie could have strewn budgetary gifts from Ridgewood to Cape May in exchange for cross-party endorsements and never suffered more than a few raised eyebrows.

But Mr Christie had a very limited supply of such budget goodies to hand out. Why? Because he’s Chris Christie! He’s a Republican governor who has made his reputation by slashing New Jersey’s budget. His party has spent 30 years locking itself into an ever-more-rigid ideological commitment to shrinking the size of government. So Republicans have almost nothing in the way of positive inducements to get Democrats to collaborate these days.

“We Will End The Failed War On Drugs”

On Tuesday, Chris Christie spoke out against the drug war:

We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse. We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands this simple truth:  every life has value and no life is disposable.

Erik Altieri wants the Jersey governor to back up his words with deeds:

While critiques of the War on Drugs are always welcomed (Governor Christie had previously made similar statements), it is hard to take his comments seriously when you consider his record regarding sensible reforms to New Jersey’s marijuana laws.

The same day he was calling for an end to this failed policy, two pieces of legislation that would have made pragmatic changes to New Jersey’s marijuana laws were sitting on his desk awaiting signature. The first would have allowed state farmers to receive licenses for industrial hemp cultivation as soon as the federal government changed the national policy on the issue. The other, Senate Bill 1220, would have ensured patients enrolled in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program would be able to receive organ transplants and not be disqualified because of their medicinal use of cannabis. You would think that a governor who just stood at a podium and lambasted our prohibition as a failed policy, would immediately leave the stage and eagerly sign these pieces of legislation.

He didn’t. These two important measures sat on his desk, unsigned and were ultimately doomed to failure by Governor Christie’s pocket veto.

Balko calls Christie’s declaration “pretty significant” but adds caveats:

Though Christie admirably wants to end the cycle of incarceration, he also supports mandatory treatment for recreational drug users, even first-time offenders. That doesn’t exactly scream freedom. (The overwhelming majority of recreational drug users aren’t addicts, and aren’t in need of treatment.) And while New Jersey technically legalized medical marijuana nearly four years ago, Christie has done everything in his power to prevent it from actually happening. Finally, in 2012, Christie vetoed a “good Samaritan” bill that would have protected from criminal prosecution someone who calls 911 to report a drug overdose.

Sullum joins the conversation:

Although Christie’s version of the drug war may prove to be less bad than the ones waged by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (whose drug czars made similar noises), it should not be confused with drug peace, which requires renouncing the use of force against people whose only crime consists of consuming politically disfavored intoxicants or helping others do so.

Christie’s Nosedive

Christie Favorables

Benen flags a new poll:

The above chart is from the poll’s internals (pdf), showing Christie’s support over the course of four years. Note, the governor enjoyed steady-but-not-overwhelming popularity for a long while, only to see his support soar with the Sandy crisis.

According to the new data, that bump has now evaporated. Also note, the latest Quinnipiac poll offers some additional bad news – independents seem to be moving away from Christie rather quickly, which offered results roughly in line with the Pew Research poll we discussed yesterday.

Ezra compares Christie to LBJ:

President Barack Obama so often seems powerless before an intransigent Congress that it’s become common to hear people yearn for an LBJ-like executive — one who knows how to get things done. “LBJ-nostalgia is a reaction to Barack Obama’s presidency,” wrote the Economist. That nostalgia, however, is focused more on LBJ’s victories than on his methods. If the president tried to wield power in a similar fashion today, he would be driven from office.

Christie has been a beneficiary of LBJ nostalgia.

He’s a tough Republican governor in a blue state facing a Democratic legislature. He yells at people who oppose him. He swaggers across the national stage. He gets things done — including big things, such as pension reform — which encourages people to believe that maybe, just maybe, he’s a political leader who could make Washington work again.

Jon Chait instead compares Christie to Nixon, who “happily cut deals with Democrats in Congress.” Chait sees “no reason why a politician can’t abuse power and cooperate with the other party”:

Working with a legislature controlled by the opposite party is a shrewd way for an executive to maximize his power and influence. Genuine ideological opposition may prevent such deals, but if your only goal is power and influence, then you’re less likely to let that stop you. Indeed, the sort of threats and rewards Christie characteristically deploys would have little force if he were reliably partisan. It is only his willingness to cross party lines to help pliant Democrats — or punish disagreeable Republicans, like Tom Kean Jr. — that gives him the flexibility to be an effective bully. A reliable partisan would be locked into alliances with his fellow partisans, and locked into rivalries with the opposing party.

Barro feels that, on plenty of occasions, Christie was just doing his job:

I’ve seen a lot of “shocked, shocked” interviews with New Jersey politicians over the last few weeks, in which they are stunned to discover that political support for the governor might influence where a DMV office gets located or whose calls get returned. But those rewards and punishments are tools a smart executive uses to build legislative coalitions, pass budgets and policy reforms, and keep the state running smoothly. They are how Republicans and Democrats can work together effectively.

New Jersey residents shouldn’t want a governor whose staff causes traffic jams on purpose. But they shouldn’t want a governor who doesn’t try to instill favor in his allies and fear in his opponents — unless they want an end to bipartisanship.

Who’s The GOP’s New Frontrunner?

Senators Call For Passage Of Military Justice Improvement Act

Beinart thinks it’s Rand Paul:

Despite his organizational strength, Ron Paul’s libertarian views capped his support in Iowa, preventing him from winning over more traditional conservatives. But in 2016, Rand Paul will be less of an ideological outlier than his father was in 2012. That’s partly because he has avoided some of his father’s edgier views. (He’s more supportive of foreign aid and sanctions against Iran, for instance.) And it’s partly because more Republicans now share his suspicion of the national-security state.

Last summer, more than 40 percent of House Republicans voted to curb NSA data collection. “Rand has a much broader appeal than his father,” Robinson says. Polls reflect that: A survey last December for the Des Moines Register found Paul with a lower unfavorability rating among Iowa Republicans than either Christie or Jeb Bush.

If Paul is, arguably, the early leader in Iowa, he may be the early frontrunner in New Hampshire as well. While Ron Paul placed third in Iowa in 2012, he placed second in New Hampshire, losing only to Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts and a national frontrunner with a vast financial edge.

It’s way too soon to game this out, of course. But those who dismiss the chances of Paul are missing something, I think. Something fascinating is happening beneath the surface of the Republican-conservative debate. There is a revival – a clear, strong revival – of a conservatism perhaps best represented by The American Conservative of an authentically conservative worldview that is federalist, fiscally austerian, non-interventionist, and more skeptical of government’s national security claims. It’s always been there – a useful new primer on its history by Daniel McCarthy is here – but it is now much stronger vis-a-vis the Cold War liberalism and neoconservative orthodoxy that dominated the movement for so long. Someone will have to run under that banner in 2016, and it’s hard to see anyone tapping into the passionate activist support for it more effectively than Paul.

The Pauls are natural insurgents. And the GOP remains roiled by populist currents. That doesn’t mean Paul will win. It does mean he matters.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty.)

“A Lot Of Sliding Toward Undecided”

Noam Scheiber doubts media-bashing will work for Chris Christie’s comeback campaign:

[A]s satisfying as it may feel in the moment, media-bashing has a rather poor track record of papering over candidates’ ideological heresies. Just ask those august GOP nominees, Newt Gingrich (global warmingimmigration, chronic bride-shopping) and Rudy Giuliani (gay marriage, abortion, gun control). The seams invariably show, especially since the media-bashers tend to be pols who’ve basked in a fair amount of media adulation at various points in their careers. Sooner or later, Republican voters tend to notice that the anti-media fulminating is suspiciously timed to deflect the most damning questions.

That’s not to say media-bashing can’t work—it clearly has on occasion. But the only reliable formula is when the infraction that kindled the media firestorm in the first place attests to one’s conservative credentials. Say, when Sarah Palin accuses the Democratic nominee for president of palling around with terrorists, then blames the resulting uproar on media bias. Or, to pick the more relevant example of a moderate trying to gin up conservative support, when Rudy Giuliani questions whether waterboarding is in fact torture, accuses Democrats of refusing to use the term “Islamic terrorist” out of misplaced political correctness, or trims the welfare rolls by hundreds of thousands of people. All of these prompted a media uproar, which in turn prompted Giuliani to attack the “liberal media.” (Not that he ever needed much provocation.) And though these frequent outbursts didn’t exactly secure the GOP nomination for him (see point one), they probably did boost his ratings among primary voters at various points in 2007.

Christie’s polling numbers are getting worse:

In the last Quinnipiac poll, 64 percent of Republicans said Christie would be a “good president.” Only 18 percent disagreed. That’s shrunk to 50 and 22 percent, respectively—a mere 4-point increase in the hard-no number, but a 12-point move from “good president” to “ask me something else.” Conservatives, more skeptical in general of Christie, had given him a 54–26 advantage on the “good president” question. That’s down to 37–24. Again, not huge movement to “no,” just a lot of sliding toward undecided.

The Christie Scandal Metastasizes

First Read analyzes the latest:

Christie’s biggest political problem right now is that he’s fighting wars on two different fronts, both of which increasingly look like wars of attrition. The first war is the two-week-old George port-authoritahWashington Bridge scandal, and 18 new Christie aides and associates have been subpoenaed by New Jersey Democrats now investigating the matter. And, at the very least, it promises months of new email revelations, testimony, and storylines. (Since this is being led by the state Assembly, it also means it will likely grind Christie’s second-term agenda to a halt before it even begins.)

The second war is Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegation, first made on MSNBC over the weekend, that the Christie administration threatened to hold up the city’s Hurricane Sandy relief aid unless she supported a private development project. That matter is now being investigated by a federal prosecutor, and it also promises weeks and months of potential headaches for Team Christie. “What we’ve got now is a federal criminal investigation into the Christie administration’s administration of Sandy funds,” NBC’s Michael Isikoff reported yesterday. As history teaches us, a two-front war is never an enviable position for the person fighting it.

Ezra puts the scandal in context:

It would be easier to dismiss Zimmer if not for the bridge closure. And it would be easier to explain away the bridge closure if not for Zimmer. That’s the problem for Christie: These stories are beginning to build. Each new revelation makes the past scandals more believable — and more damaging. And each new story intensifies the media’s efforts to find more.

Benen notes that Team Christie is trying to shift the focus to the media:

There is a pretty standard tactic in Political Crisis Management 101: discredit those asking the questions. The strategy, however, is not without flaw. For example, Team Christie has not yet uncovered any factual errors in MSNBC reporting, which would presumably be the prerequisite to any complaints. When allegations of wrongdoing surface, this is not a sound defense: “The allegations are wrong because they’ve been reported by journalists we don’t like.” A better defense would be, “The allegations are wrong and here’s why.”

Jeff Smith, speaking from personal experience, discusses the possible federal prosecution of the Christie administration:

What these pundits forget—and, as Christie, a former U.S. attorney, knows as well as anyone—is the old saw that federal prosecutors can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. They don’t need a bulletproof case. And once they have a target, they aren’t limited to investigating the matter that caught their attention; public corruption probes often widen as new information emerges. Federal prosecutors rarely have just one attack route. Remember, they brought down Al Capone for income tax evasion, not bribery, bootlegging, or murder. The Fort Lee incident may be merely a bridge, if you will, to other Christie administration misconduct.