The volume of Republican resentment of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for what many in his party think was an overenthusiastic embrace of President Obama has gotten louder. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson speculated on the Rush Limbaugh radio show this week that Christie was doing more than venting a latent resentment of Mitt Romney. He said it showed Christie wanted “a clean slate” when the governor runs for president in 2016, something that would be impossible if Romney was the incumbent president that year planning his re-election. Carlson was not the only person saying that, since the pictures of the unlikely “bromance” between Obama and Christie became the new symbols of bipartisanship.
But angry Republicans need to tone it down a bit. Though I don’t count myself among Christie’s biggest fans, and think the assumption that his tough guy persona will work as well on the national stage as it does in New Jersey is probably mistaken, I doubt that his goal this week was to slip a knife into Romney’s back. His emotional response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy was genuine, as was his gratitude for federal help. But if there was any political motive in the back of his mind this week as he went about his duties amid the chaos of the hurricane, it was probably related to what will happen in 2013, not 2016. Whatever Christie may be thinking about Romney these days, any softening of his hard partisan image has a lot more to do with a desire to set the stage for his re-election campaign next year than it does with a possible future presidential run.
If Christie has already set his heart on running for president in 2016, it would obviously be in his interest to see Obama re-elected, since a Romney victory would put off the next open GOP presidential nomination until 2020. But Christie isn’t running for president in either year unless he can fend off what is likely to be an all-out Democratic effort to deny him re-election as governor in 13 months. As such, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Christie did spend much of the coming year trying to smooth out some of his rough edges as he attempts to remind New Jersey voters that he actually has a strong record of reaching out to Democrats in the state legislature to get things done. Getting that picture of Obama and Christie shaking hands embedded in the memory of voters in blue New Jersey also will help him fend off a challenge from Newark Mayor Corey Booker, who has had his own problems sticking to the president’s party line.
The idea that Christie’s embrace of Obama’s aid to New Jersey was strictly motivated by animus for Romney also is out of context. It should be remembered that Christie actually made a very strong argument for a GOP that stuck to its conservative principles but that was still ready to work with opponents where possible in his keynote speech at the Republican National Convention.
We can’t know for sure what Chris Christie wants to happen next week, but the idea that he deliberately pursued an agenda to undermine Romney (whom he enthusiastically backed in the Republican primaries after he made it clear he wouldn’t run in 2012) is probably an exaggeration. There’s little doubt that Christie remains, as he always has been, in business for himself. But he knows his main challenge now is to get re-elected, not maneuvering for 2016.