By Art Gallagher
Governor Chris Christie has been called, by friend and foes alike, the best political communicator since Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. Yet, after abandoning his post in New Jersey for the better part of two years in his quest for the presidency, the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire were unmoved by his talent.
As pundits and strategists dissect Christie’s failure, so far none have pointed to the obvious: Christie’s entitlement reform plan. Christie promised a harder future.
Donald Trump’s campaign in a variation of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Yes we can” has been replaced by “Make America Great Again.”
We still can. Trump’s the man to make it happen and it will be easy. He’ll make great deals. Mexico will pay to build a wall to keep their rapist and drug dealers out of our country. China will send our jobs back and forgive our debt, because we have all the leverage and Carl Ichan will help him. Trump promises to succeed, easily, where others have failed because he is a smart businessman and the political class is greedy and inept.
Trump didn’t take the tough guy position away from Christie. He took the Merlin the Wizard (of Arthur and Monmouth legend) mantle that Obama used to put the country under his spell in 2008.
Bernie Sanders’ message is a variation on Trump’s. Instead of taking from Mexico and China, Bernie will take from the American elite.
Christie promised that we would have to retire later with less. Many Americans are faced with that reality today, as they lost their fortunes over the the last eight years. Christie didn’t offer any hope in his presidential campaign. He said life would get really bad if we don’t intentionally sacrifice and impose discipline upon ourselves now. Christie’s message was a realistic one that he couldn’t sell while Trump, and all of the other candidates on both sides of the aisle are selling hope and change without pain.
This morning Christie is confronted with the choice of whether to suspend his presidential campaign today or at the end of the month after losing in South Carolina. He is confronted with reestablishing himself as the leader of a state government that he hasn’t led since he was reelected in 2013. He says he’s led New Jersey, walking and chewing gum at the same time via cell phone, while he traveled the country chasing his own ambitions, but he hasn’t been a leader, he’s been at best a controlling administrator who wouldn’t let others lead or flourish in his absence.
Can Christie regain the trust of New Jersey’s citizens who resent his broken promises to turn Trenton upside down and rebuild from Sandy? Will he further damage a New Jersey Republican Party that he has squeezed all the juice out of for his own ambition? Will be come home looking to settle scores? Or will he be the leader we hoped his was in 2009 when we elected him.
When running for the GOP nomination for governor in 2009, Christie promised he would govern as a Republican and as if he only had one term and without regard for politics. He acknowledged that he would not have a cooperative legislature and he said he would use the bully pulpit of the Governor’s Office to get the public to pressure the legislature to pass his conservative agenda.
The likelihood that a lame duck Christie who has been a part time governor for over two years can now come back to New Jersey and win back the support of the people who now resent him in order to finish “turning Trenton upside down” is remote. If anyone can do it, he can. I hope he tries.