The latest Quinnipiac poll showing Chris Christie’s approval rating at 59 percent in New Jersey has been raising eyebrows. As Aaron Blake writes at the Washington Post, “New Jersey is notoriously tough on its politicians – it’s rare that anybody cracks even 50 percent approval – and the state’s Democratic lean makes Christie’s success all the more notable. Despite his tough rhetoric, 54 percent say he’s a leader, while 39 percent (read: Democrats) say he’s a bully.”
Blake gets one thing backwards, though. New Jersey residents see Christie as a leader not “despite” his tough rhetoric, but in large part because of it–and because it’s backed up by action. Christie is popular because in a state known for crooked politicians he has earned such a reputation for honesty that he has begun to lift the heavy fog of cynicism that has been hanging for a decade or more over the state’s residents. As a Fairleigh Dickinson poll found last month, for the first time in ten years a majority of New Jerseyans say their state is moving in the right direction. And that leads to one other essential element of Christie’s popularity: the contrast with President Obama.
One of the reasons there was such a popular demand for Christie to run for president this year was that contrast. Christie was elected in 2009 with a mandate to steer the state away from the financial cliff it was heading toward, rein in government overspending and waste, clean up the cronyism so endemic in the state’s politics, ease the burden on taxpayers, and do all this while addressing the perilous state of public education.
And that’s what he did. What’s more, Christie accomplished this while rallying the state’s sense of civic responsibility. His budget, he said, recognized that “every New Jerseyan has shared in the sacrifice that was necessary to begin the New Jersey Comeback and that every New Jerseyan should share in the benefit we’re beginning to feel.”
Obama was swept into office with a similar mandate, but instead of focusing on creating jobs, he used his political capital to force through Congress an overwhelmingly unpopular health care reform bill over the loud protest of the voters. Instead of ending cronyism, the revolving door of lobbyists and beneficiaries remained perfectly in place; the essential votes for Obamacare came thanks to the “Cornhusker kickback” and the “Louisiana purchase”; and the Solyndra debacle combined political favoritism with dreadful policy ideas. He contributed to the erosion of American education by seeking to end the D.C. scholarship program. And rather than rein in spending, the president has set the country on an unsustainable path of debt and entitlements.
And he did this, moreover, while seeking to set Americans against one another, dividing the country, shifting blame, and energizing his party’s base by finding scapegoats on the other side of the aisle.
Christie’s straight talk isn’t a gimmick. He tells voters he’s going to do something, and then does it, and his unyielding demeanor is not to bully his opponents, but rather to fend off the powerful interest groups that work overtime to derail reform and enrich themselves at the expense of the state’s bruised and beleaguered taxpayers. That his honesty is being rewarded at the polls is no surprise.