Commentary Magazine


Christie Shouldn’t Be the Scapegoat

Republicans are still licking their wounds today, but from the sound of it, some in the Romney campaign aren’t letting go of their vendetta with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While this Washington Post story centered on Mitt Romney’s efforts to thank and console his supporters and made clear just how decent a guy he is, it also gave a platform for some of his staffers and leading fundraisers to vent their anger at Christie and his role in puffing up President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy:

Although Romney himself stopped short of placing any blame on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who praised President Obama’s leadership during the storm, several Romney supporters privately pointed fingers at the outspoken governor.

“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” said one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Another major Romney fundraiser said Christie’s embrace of Obama after Sandy walloped his state only deepened a rift that opened between the Romney and Christie camps over the summer Christie and his wife were unhappy with Romney’s vice presidential search process, believing they were “led a little bit far down the garden path” without being picked, the fundraiser, said.

Any losing campaign needs scapegoats, and it’s clear that some in the Romney campaign are anxious to divert the focus away from their own failures. The hurricane, and Christie’s embrace of the president, was a setback. Yet a dispassionate look at the returns and the turnout figures shows that even if the weather had stayed nice on the East Coast in the week before the election, Romney would have still lost. To say that Christie lost the election for the GOP is bunk. But even though the attacks on Christie are off base and ought to stop, the controversy still tells us something about the problem with the governor and why those assuming he will succeed where Romney failed are probably wrong.

It’s now apparent that many in Romney’s camp as well as some of us in the media had a mistaken view of the state of the race in the days just before the storm. The belief that Romney was ahead was based on a model of the electorate that assumed that Democratic turnout would not come close to that of 2008. That was wrong. The Obama campaign really did have a massive ground game advantage over Romney’s more amateurish efforts, and the result was another wave of Democratic enthusiasm that swamped the upsurge in Republican enthusiasm. The storm and the adoring press coverage it got certainly aided the president and might have helped turn a more narrow margin for the president into the clear victory he achieved. But even if there were no Sandy and no photo op and gushing praise from Christie, Obama would still be planning a second term today.

Conservatives spent the last two years underestimating President Obama’s political strengths and paid the price for it on Tuesday, and this bout of Christie-bashing is just another instance of them engaging in denial about what really happened. But even though the Romney camp’s shots at Christie are way out of line, the governor has no one to blame but himself for the way this controversy has grown.

Christie built his reputation on his blunt, tough-guy persona that conservatives love because of his refusal to play by liberal rules in public debate about the issues. But the flip side to this is an arrogant disdain for anyone else’s point of view. Christie always operates as if he is in business for himself, and if he allowed his hurt feelings about the vice presidential nomination to affect his behavior during the campaign, that doesn’t speak well for his judgment. His instinct is always to fire back at any criticism, and that has helped keep this minor controversy about the storm alive. The governor has many attributes that recommend him to the country, but the last few months show that being a team player is not one of them.

Though no one should blame Christie for Romney’s loss, this is just another piece of evidence that shows that he might not do as well under the scrutiny of a national campaign as his admirers think. Christie’s temperament is perfect for the maelstrom of New Jersey politics, but might not play as well on the national stage.

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