The conversation at my Thanksgiving dinner table went something like this:
“Oh, he’s definitely running in 2016.” “I love Chris Christie.” “You think he’s running? I’d love for him to run.” “He was incredible with Sandy.” “It’ll be Clinton and Christie in 2016—that’s going to be one hell of a fight.” “I mean, I’m a Democrat and I think he’s great.” “Chris Christie is what this country needs.”
You see, my family is about as stereotypical New Jersey as can be—our surname is Benedetto, my uncle brought enough wine to fill a cellar, my 5-year-old cousin said he is most thankful for pizza, my mom cooked enough to feed a village, and almost all of our conversations circled back to Chris Christie.
I knew the governor was popular, and I figured that my family was full of Christie fans, but I admit I was surprised by the love and excitement apparent in their voices when we talked about Christie and his 2016 prospects. My dinner conversations proved to me that the stories are true—New Jerseyans do not just support the governor, they love him.
Naturally, Christie is not universally loved, not even in New Jersey, but he does have an overwhelming amount of support. Christie, like most Republican candidates, has struggled with black, Hispanic, and women voters and, according to the votes, is not particularly popular in the struggling city of Newark. However, when looking at the big picture and taking into accounts his recent improvements, Christie is hugely popular. There has been much speculation about whether or not the New Jerseyan will run for President in 2016, but if he does, the biggest struggle will not be getting the support of the people—it will be getting the support of the Grand Old Party.
Over the past few years, the Republican Party has been struggling with an identity crisis. Half of the party wants to be more conservative, and the other half wants to be more moderate. The Tea Party’s success and leverage shows people that, at least currently, the hard-line route is the one winning this fight. According to the Time article on Christie “Born to Run,” less than 1 in 4 Americans view the Republican Party brand positively. However, there are those Republicans that are still trying to take a more moderate approach to conservatism in order to remain relevant as a political party, recruit young voters, and broaden the GOP’s reach.
To many, Chris Christie is the savior that the GOP needs. Two weeks ago, the governor won his reelection by a landslide. He received 60 percent of the vote, beating his opponent Senator Barbara Buono by over 20 points. According to Time, Christie won 21 percent of black voters, 51 percent of Latino voters, 32 percent of Democrats, and 31 percent of liberals. The governor even won women by 15 points, despite being a pro-life man running against a pro-choice woman. Additionally, his overall approval rating is at 61 percent. Christie has achieved this success by having over 100 town hall-style meetings in minority areas, positioning himself as a moderate, and maintaining a down-to-earth personality and way of talking that people respond to.
Despite Christie’s success in a historically deep-blue state, the GOP is still divided over him. According to an NBC poll, 32 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters would vote for Christie in a hypothetical Clinton-Christie 2016 presidential matchup. On the other hand, 31 percent prefer another unnamed Republican candidate. That leaves another third undecided, which makes them the ever-important swing voters. In addition to this general divide, the GOP is also divided geographically. The NBC poll shows that Christie is far more popular to Northeast Republicans than he is to Southern Republicans and that Republicans in the South, West, and Midwest would prefer someone else. This poll just shows how fractured the Republican Party is and how hard it is going to be for it to come together for 2016.
It is not just the poll showing the divide amongst the Republican Party—Republican leaders are publicly stating their disdain for Christie in an attempt to stop this ‘Chris Christie for President’ movement in its tracks. Leaders such as Scott Hofstra and Rand Paul have made statements against the governor, saying that they do not support him, declaring him a liberal, and discussing their frustration with all of the 2016 Christie talk. Iowa Republican activist Chelle Adkins flat out stated, “I’ll vote for him over a Democrat, but not in the caucuses.” It is clear from the poll and statements like these that Christie must beat the elephant-sized battle of the Grand Old Party before he can even take a stab at Hillary Clinton.
At the moment, Chris Christie is the best candidate the GOP has to run against Hillary in 2016. He has proved that he can sway Democrats to his side, win over groups that the GOP typically struggles with, and maintain high approval rates despite making tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. Christie does not have high approval ratings on every issue, but his overall approval rating is impressive. If the GOP does not want to alienate young, moderate, and minority voters, then it is going to have to pick a candidate that can meet those voters in the middle. Currently, Chris Christie is the only Republican option capable of doing that and possibly capable of beating Hillary. The hardliners and anti-Chrisie-ers would be smart to bear that in mind over the next couple years in case Christie does become the GOP nominee. It will be difficult for the GOP to rally around Christie and convince the public it truly supports him if Republicans keep blatantly speaking out against him.
Overall, I think Christie has the potential to be a contender for 2016. New Jersey is behind him, the majority of the Northeast is behind him, and honestly, I think the country is just curious to see what a man like Christie would do during a presidential campaign. The 2016 race will come down to this: what side of the fight the GOP will be on—the side where they have a shot or the side where they have none.
“What is Chris Christie Doing Right,” by Benjamin Wallace
Scherer M, Miller Z. Born to Run. Time [serial online]. November 18, 2013;182(21):24. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 29, 2013.