Chris Christie: The GOP's Next Crummy Presidential Nominee?

Sensible conservatives have had to put up with a lot since Ronald Reagan left the White House — and to be clear, Reagan also had a few very weak moments. But expecting us to get enthusiastic about the sadly realistic prospect of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie becoming the Republican Party’s next presidential nominee is, at least for me, way beyond the pale.

If Governor Christie isn’t the most cynical, self-centered, egotistical opportunist exploiting a carefully developed but fundamentally false conservative persona on the political scene today, I don’t want to meet the person who is.

The event representing the straw that broke the camel’s back, causing me to reject the idea of Christie ever rising any further than Garden State governor, took place on Tuesday, when he lashed out at the federal flood insurance program’s utter failure to come through in time of dire need for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. Here is some of what he said:

… I’ve been as patient as I’m going to be with the national flood insurance plan. And now I’m going to have to turn my special brand of love and affection onto the national flood insurance plan, and this morning is the start of that. They need to get more people into New Jersey, they need to get to work, and they need to get to processing these claims.

… New Jersey households timely paid their insurance premiums. So they deserve to have their claims timely paid now.

… 85% of (Sandy-related private insurance) homeowner claims have been resolved; only 30% of flood insurance claims have been resolved. That’s just unacceptable — unacceptable for people who paid these premiums. And I’m not going to sit around and take it quietly any longer.

We’ve tried to work behind the scenes, urged them to do it. We’ve gotten all kinds of assurances that haven’t been met. And so now we’re going to be publicly calling on them and calling on our Congressional delegation to get all over the national flood insurance program.

Why did this bother me so greatly? I’ll explain.

Just three months earlier, on October 31, President Barack Obama visited the areas wrecked by Sandy, and promised:

… [w]e are not going to tolerate red tape. We’re not going to tolerate bureaucracy.

At the time, just days before the November 6 presidential election, instead of delivering the measured gratitude appropriate in such early-stage circumstances, Christie made the rounds of the morning TV shows praising Obama as if he were the second coming of Mother Teresa and Clara Barton combined, even though all the president had done was pay him a photo-op visit and utter some encouraging words: “[t]he president has been all over this and deserves great credit. He gave me his number at the White House and told me to call him if I needed anything.” We have for that, Chris.

Despite the virtual blackout by Obama’s apparatchiks in the national establishment press, many of whose members live and work within an hour’s drive of hard-hit locales, it is a fact that Obama’s personally delivered Sandy-related promises aren’t being kept. For many in the affected areas, the process of recovery from Sandy is going no betterand possibly worse, given the winter weather — than the cleanup effort after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The press somehow portrayed that disaster and its aftermath, both in fact largely fed by the utter incompetence of now-indicted former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, both Democrats, as President George W. Bush’s fault.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that Christie’s slurpfest with Obama just a week before Election Day cost Mitt Romney the presidency, but it indisputably exposed Chris Christie as being all about Chris Christie.

It’s now clear in retrospect that the governor didn’t care about what he was doing to Romney’s campaign, and exploited Sandy to drive up his in-state approval ratings. Why? Christie is up for reelection this fall, and needed high poll numbers to persuade credible challengers like Newark Mayor Cory Booker to stand down.

Now that he’s in command, Christie clearly thinks it’s more important to avoid alienating Democrats who worship at the altar of Dear Leader than it is to note that Obama’s promises were nothing but empty, substance-free platitudes, and to personally demand that Obama himself make the situation change. On Tuesday, he should have used his “special brand of love and affection” on Obama for the government’s Sandy failure, not because of politics, but because it is a fact, and because Obama guaranteed it wouldn’t happen. Instead, he dumped the task of getting the federal government to do its job on his state’s congressional delegation. What a joke.

Christie is obviously trying to achieve an electoral rout in the governor’s race nine months from now to create momentum for a 2016 presidential run. I’ve got a better idea, Chris: Work on your state’s economy. It stinks.

Christie deserves credit for balancing New Jersey’s budget without a tax increase, reining in the public-sector unions a bit, and keeping his state from going the way of California and Illinois. Though those are not minor accomplishments, that about completes his list of positives. At the time he achieved his supposedly seminal triumph, I was a bit surprised that the state’s unions didn’t go into protest overdrive as they did in Wisconsin. Now I think I understand why. The governor appears to have lost whatever interest he might have had in fundamental, long-term government reform. Democrats can simply wait out his departure and get back to their old tricks if (more likely when) they reclaim the governor’s mansion in 2017.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate was a seasonally adjusted 9.6 percent in December, exceeding the national average by almost two points. (The rate was 9.8 percent just before Sandy, so spare me the weather-related excuses.) Though his term as governor began six months after the recession’s official end, the state’s economy has only added a seasonally adjusted 60,000 jobs in three years. The Tax Foundation rates New Jersey’s business climate as second worst in the nation. After eight years (we hope) of Barack Obama, the last thing America will need in 2016 is a guy who is only adept at extending malaise.

Despite Barack Obama gaining 8 million fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008, Mitt Romney failed to win the presidency because he got 1.4 million fewer votes than John McCain did four years earlier. I fully expect that Chris Christie, if nominated, will underperform Romney, condemning us to yet another four years of ever-increasing statism and making the nation’s return from the brink of ruin virtually if not totally impossible.

Surely we can do better than Chris Christie, the Garden State Grandstander.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified L.E.Mormile / image.)