How Conservatives Will Use Chris Christie’s Victory Against Him

The popular New Jersey governor tacked to the middle during the campaign, which could hurt him in 2016.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie arrives to speak at his election night event after winning a second term at the Asbury Park Convention Hall on November 05, 2013 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Incumbent Governor Chris Christie defeated his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono by a commanding margin.
National Journal
Kevin Brennan
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Kevin Brennan
Nov. 6, 2013, 2:09 a.m.

In his vic­tory speech Tues­day night, New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie pitched his sweep­ing vic­tory as a na­tion­al mod­el for the GOP — and openly hin­ted that it would be a blue­print for a 2016 pres­id­en­tial bid.

Christie as­sembled a win­ning co­ali­tion in the solidly-Demo­crat­ic state by reach­ing out to groups that don’t tra­di­tion­ally back GOP can­did­ates. He won 57 per­cent of wo­men, 51 per­cent of His­pan­ics, even 21 per­cent of Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans — the same groups of voters the GOP has struggled to at­tract in re­cent na­tion­al races.

But his reelec­tion strategy also un­der­lines a chal­lenge for Christie’s pres­id­en­tial as­pir­a­tions: The same at­trib­utes that make him a strong gen­er­al elec­tion can­did­ate could hurt him dur­ing the GOP’s nom­in­at­ing fight. On the way to his reelec­tion rout, Christie has giv­en po­ten­tial 2016 GOP rivals open­ings to at­tack his con­ser­vat­ive cre­den­tials on sev­er­al key is­sues:

1. Gun con­trol: In April, Christie un­veiled pro­pos­als to strengthen New Jer­sey’s gun con­trol laws that prom­ised to win him fa­vor at home but threatened his stand­ing with na­tion­al gun rights ad­voc­ates. When the state le­gis­lature sent three anti-gun bills fea­tur­ing sim­il­ar pro­pos­als to Christie’s desk in Au­gust, he re­fused to sign the meas­ures, send­ing two back to the le­gis­lature and veto­ing a ban (which he had pro­posed in April) on the Bar­rett .50 caliber rifle. Demo­crats howled, ac­cus­ing Christie of flip-flop­ping in an ef­fort to ap­pease his crit­ics on the right. Yet some con­ser­vat­ives still don’t trust Christie on guns. Even after Christie re­fused to sign the three bills, Na­tion­al Re­view‘s Charles Cooke wrote that the gov­ernor has “one of the worst Second Amend­ment re­cords in the coun­try.”

2. Gay mar­riage: In­flu­en­tial so­cial con­ser­vat­ives, like Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats, balked last month when Christie dropped his ap­peal of a rul­ing leg­al­iz­ing gay mar­riage in the Garden State. When the state Su­preme Court re­jec­ted Christie’s at­tempt to delay the first same-sex wed­dings while it heard his ap­peal, the gov­ernor said the court made it clear that it in­ten­ded to up­hold the lower court’s de­cision. Christie can point to the fact that he pre­vi­ously ve­toed a bill leg­al­iz­ing gay mar­riage, but crit­ics ar­gue that he gave up the fight too early in the face of mount­ing pres­sure in a Demo­crat-dom­in­ated state. For some so­cial con­ser­vat­ives, the move seemed to con­firm already-linger­ing ques­tions about Christie’s com­mit­ment to their is­sues. “This just adds more con­cern to those cau­tion­ary flags,” Vander Plaats said.

3. Im­mig­ra­tion: Christie has made reach­ing out to His­pan­ics a top pri­or­ity in his reelec­tion bid. As part of that push, he walked back his pre­vi­ous op­pos­i­tion to DREAM Act-like le­gis­la­tion dur­ing a speech to a Latino group in Oc­to­ber. Christie’s team is bet­ting that a demon­strated abil­ity to ap­peal to His­pan­ics in New Jer­sey can go a long way to con­vin­cing Re­pub­lic­ans that he of­fers an an­ti­dote to one of the biggest prob­lems plaguing the GOP. But ap­pear­ing soft on im­mig­ra­tion car­ries con­sid­er­able risk, as Sen. Marco Ru­bio and his de­clin­ing 2016 stock can at­test.

4. Close re­la­tion­ship with Demo­crats: Christie’s con­tro­ver­sial em­brace of Pres­id­ent Obama in the af­ter­math of Hur­ricane Sandy led some Re­pub­lic­ans to ques­tion his loy­alty to the party. Some of Christie’s ac­tions dur­ing his reelec­tion fight could provide op­pon­ents with ad­di­tion­al fod­der to make sim­il­ar at­tacks. Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­ans privately fumed when Christie sched­uled the U.S. Sen­ate spe­cial elec­tion to re­place the late Sen. Frank Lauten­berg for Oc­to­ber, ac­cus­ing the gov­ernor of sac­ri­fi­cing the GOP’s abil­ity to pick up the seat in fa­vor of his per­son­al polit­ic­al in­terest. Mean­while, in the clos­ing weeks of his cam­paign, Christie made a habit of ap­pear­ing with some of the state’s most prom­in­ent Demo­crats, like Sen. Cory Book­er and Garden State Demo­crat­ic power brokers George Nor­cross and Joe DiVin­cenzo, in an ef­fort to tout his bi­par­tis­an suc­cesses in a blue state. While Christie’s abil­ity to work across party lines serves him well in New Jer­sey and could be an as­set in the gen­er­al elec­tion in 2016, it could hurt him with Tea Party sup­port­ers dur­ing the GOP nom­in­at­ing pro­cess.

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