Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie very publicly scolded House Speaker John Boehner for not bringing superstorm Sandy relief legislation to the floor for a vote. Christie, who aggressively pushed for spending cuts and pension reforms during his first year in office, unambiguously criticized his GOP colleagues for not advancing the nearly $60 billion bill, signaling a possible rift between the outspoken governor and House Republican leadership.
But Christie's criticism also reflects a straightforward political calculation. He's up for reelection in a solidly Democratic state this November, and it's in his best political interests to move away from conservative orthodoxy in favor of embracing relief funding that's popular in the Garden State. At this point, it doesn't matter whether there's any wasteful spending in the appropriation. Christie's biggest concern is whether the storm-stricken coastline will be rebuilt. His political prospects are closely tied to his recovery efforts back home—and the more money, the better.
Indeed, his approval rating skyrocketed to 77 percent in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, according to a November 2012 Fairleigh Dickinson poll, up 21 percentage points from before the storm hit.
“Whatever it was going to be, it’s now all going to be about the storm—the aftermath of that and the rebuilding and recovery from that,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg ahead of the State of the State address this week.
Christie's approval compared to Congress's overall approval rating, and congressional Republicans in particular, which is lodged in the teens, is astronomical. So there's not much risk politically for Christie to swipe at recalcitrant conservative lawmakers.
"One of the things that commended him to Republicans was his outspokenness. People are willing to accept someone who seems to be genuine. There are people in the state who are the farthest thing from Chris Christie as you can imagine, but like him," said Ross Baker, professor of political science at Rutgers University.
Christie's newly minted bipartisan bona fides is fueling buzz that he's seriously eyeing a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016—something he's not exactly shooting down. In an interview with The Star-Ledger of Newark, he publicly proclaimed that "damn right, [he'd] be more ready" to run for president than in 2012, when he was rooted on by his GOP fans.
Still, Christie's pathway to the GOP nomination is far from roadblock-free. He's a Republican governor from a solidly Democratic state—New Jersey has voted for the Democrat in presidential elections in every contest since 1988—which could spell trouble in a primary in the Republican Party, which is increasingly Southern and ideologically conservative. Plus, the party could be inclined to think twice about picking another blue-state governor after Mitt Romney fell short in 2012.