September 24, 2011
Chris Christie, the conservative GOP Governor of New Jersey who made national headlines less than a month ago for ordering residents to “get the hell off the beach” or risk injury to themselves or others during Hurricane Irene, is said to be reconsidering a run for the GOP presidential nomination.
If Christie does run, it would be a 180-degree turn from his former position. The 49-year-old governor has repeatedly denied any Oval Office ambitions. Christie would be the sixth governor or former governor to throw his hat in the GOP presidential ring.
“I won’t run ... I can’t imagine it,” Christie said earlier this year in a televised speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank. “What do I have to do outside of threatening to commit suicide to convince people I’m not running?”
According to reports from a variety of news websites today, Christie says he will let top Republican donors know his plans within a few days. In recent weeks, several leading Republican donors and fundraisers have been urging the popular governor to reconsider his decision not to run and to enter the GOP primary.
If Christie does decide to run, he would have to overcome some serious negatives. First, his weight: Like many others in the U.S., he is obese, which could affect his health and therefore the security of the country. Second, Christie has a reputation for talking straight (a plus), which has led opponents to call him a bully. His sometimes brusque and dismissive comments to union supporters and others have hurt his reputation as a consensus builder.
How He Tackled Irene This Summer
As hurricane floodwaters rose in New Jersey during Hurricane Irene, so did Christie’s national profile. Jacket off and sweating under the sun, the governor mingled with the stricken, let them weep on shoulder, felt their pain – and sounded off relentlessly about the need for disaster relief from the federal government.
His efforts, and his presence, struck a chord, not just with local residents but also with political strategists. “Christie [has] handled the hurricane crisis perfectly,” Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, told The Fiscal Times. “It only serves to help him should he run for higher office. He is viewed by many in the GOP as a leader who could defeat President Obama in 2012.”
Brad Bannon, a Democrat strategist, agreed: “The GOP candidate with the best chance to beat the President is [currently] not running for President.” But Bannon made this observation: “The GOP political establishment is still looking for a candidate like Christie to stop Perry. And Perry’s splash in the polls shows that the Republicans are still looking around, so the race is fluid. There is still an opening, but the door is closing.”
As of early September, many New Jersey towns were still flooded, with businesses, schools and vital infrastructure severely compromised. As floodwaters finally began to recede in some places and homeowners began to pick up the pieces of their waterlogged lives, Christie maintained a formidable public presence. While touring the stricken town of Lincoln Park, for example, he chastised the federal government for not providing needed aid to the disaster victims in his state – never mind budget cuts.
Christie was responding to the demand from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that any relief offered to victims of the hurricane be offset by spending cuts in other parts of the budget. “Nobody was asking about offsetting budget cuts in Joplin,” Christie said, referring to Joplin, Missouri, hard-hit by a tornado this past May. “And I don’t want to hear about the fact that offsetting budget cuts have to come first, before New Jersey citizens are taken care of.”
He also took a swipe at the prolonged debt-ceiling wrangling in Washington. “You want to figure out budget cuts, that’s fine. You’re going to turn it into a fiasco like that debt-limit thing, where you’re fighting with each other for eight or nine weeks. And you expect the citizens of my state to wait? They’re not going to wait. And I’m going to fight to make sure that they don’t.”
New Jersey was declared a federal disaster area shortly afterward.
Christie told reporters how his own family was affected during Hurricane Floyd in 1999: “We lost everything we owned. So I understand the emotional feeling.” He said he saw pictures of his four children literally “disintegrate from the acrid flood water.”
On his Twitter feed during the worst of Irene, Christie wrote, “NJ needs support now & that’s not a Republican or Democratic issue. Shdnt be turned into one.” He previously said, “Down to under 200,000 without power from high of 850,000. I know it stinks, but pls hang in there — help coming soon.”
Unlike New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who handled the crisis from a podium, or New York City’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who flanked himself with a steady cast of city officials while speaking to the press, Christie was out and about both before and after Hurricane Irene sliced through his state, walking the walk.
While urging New Jersey residents to take proper precautions for their safety and well being, Christie barked at people to “get the hell off the beach.” After the storm, when some roads were clear again, and looking ahead to the economically important Labor Day weekend in the state, Christie’s second-in-command, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, jokingly told people, “Get the hell back on the beach.”
Republicans remaining hungry for a white knight may look more and more to Chris Christie. “[Rick] Perry and [Michele] Bachmann are self-destructive,” said Democratic strategist Bannon. “Both of them are Tea Party darlings who will scare off the moderate independent suburban voters who will choose the next president in November 2012.
“Mitt Romney has only a slightly better chance than I do of winning the GOP nod,” continued Bannon. “The Tea Partiers hate RomneyCare, and the social conservatives can’t trust a politician who once said he would be more pro gay rights than Ted Kennedy.” Bannon added, “Christie is the governor of a Northeastern suburban state. He is conservative on economic issues but a social moderate. What more could the GOP want?
“For him to run. That’s what.”
Parts of this article were originally published on September 2, 2011.