Close advisers of Chris Christie say he’s likely to announce as early as this week whether to enter the presidential scrum. Insider William Kristol says the chances are “50-50” it’s a go, but Kristol himself believes his answer will be “yes.” What moved the New Jersey chief executive to reconsider a run, after multiple denials, was his rousing reception at the Reagan Library.
But while many influential conservatives are pushing the governor to take the plunge, including media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, others are balking. They note the day is not only late to launch an effective campaign, but they’re uncertain where he stands on a myriad of issues. They fear he would first have to do a whole lot of “clarifying” and “backtracking,” potentially damaging his most valuable asset: his image as a fearless, straight-talking political leader. Indeed, Christie would open himself to the deadly charge of political somersaulting just by tossing his hat into the ring, with the media endlessly replaying his seemingly heartfelt, virtually Shermanesque, statements, that he would not run because he didn’t feel up to the job.
These conservatives salute his leadership in New Jersey, where he has challenged–and defeated–the public sector unions and the Democratic legislature, rescuing his state from bankruptcy without raising taxes. This is no mean feat and explains the groundswell for the governor.
But there are other critical issues he would need to convincingly address in campaigning for votes in a GOP primary in either 2012 or 2016. How, for instance, does he stand on court appointments? He got into trouble when he picked for a superior court judgeship a Muslim lawyer who defended Muslims detained by the government after the Sept. 11 attacks. Under criticism that he was linked to extremists and might favor Sharia law, Christie snapped at his critics: “This Sharia law business is crap. It’s just crazy and I’m tired of dealing with crazies,” remarks conservatives found not only impolitic but seriously uninformed.
His stand on immigration is also murky. While he took a shot at Rick Perry’s in-state tuition subsidy for illegals in his Reagan Library address, he is known to be soft on the issue and in 2008 was quoted as saying: “The whole phrase of ‘illegal immigrant ‘ connotes that the person by just being here is committing a crime.” That’s a view that is hardly consoling to those who are adamant about securing our southern border.
His belief that “climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role” appears to have shaped his energy policies. While Republicans heavily favor more “natural gas and coal production,” notes the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Christie has gone the other way. He passed an offshore wind law last year that one study estimated would increase electricity costs by more than two per cent. His energy plan, released in June, calls for phasing out coal-fired powers plants in the state. He has opposed oil drilling off New Jersey’s coastline and imposed a one year ban on a natural gas extraction technique known as fracking…”
Even his well received speech in Simi Valley had its detractors. Obama’s leadership qualities, which Christie sharply condemned as ineffective, are not what they see as wrong with the president. What they fault are his leftwing policies, which Christie did not choose to dwell upon. Precisely because of Obama’s effective leadership, they contend, no Administration since Lyndon Johnson’s has advanced the Big Government agenda faster or further. Christie also implied that conservative Republicans were as much to blame as leftwing Democrats for congressional gridlock and he seemed to swallow the Bowles-Simpson report whole, despite its enthusiasm for enormous tax increases.
None of Christie’s stands is considered disqualifying for either a 2012 or 2016 run. He is still a work in progress who seems to be trending rightward. But many unsold conservatives feel the governor will have to do a lot more explaining before they can get comfortably behind his candidacy.