Chris Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, has a message for his party: No matter what level you operate on, you need to get elected. James Carville is responsible for the ubiquitousness of the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid”; he coined the term while working as a strategist on Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Christie’s message to the party is as clear, strategic, and blunt as Carville’s.
The Washington Post reported on comments Christie made on his campaign bus last week. Christie said he told the Republican National Committee: “I’m in this to win, because if you don’t win, you can’t govern. If you can’t govern, you can’t move the country, the state, the city — whatever you’re running for — in the direction it needs to be moved in.” Christie went on to say that he thinks too many Republicans have “become less interested in winning an election and more interested in winning an argument.”
Christie isn’t alone. Mitt Romney appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, and his stance on the Republican Party was in step with Christie’s. When asked about the tactics of Republicans in Congress, notably shutting down the government over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Romney said: ”The shutdown was not the right way to go, in my view. But the right way to replace Obamacare is to elect Republicans to the Senate and the House and ultimately the White House and repair Obamacare, replace it, and put in place something that’s going to do a better job for the American people.”
Romney said that at this stage, well ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Christie has ” a demonstrated ability to work across the aisle, with support of labor and blue-collar voters in New Jersey.” Translation? Christie can win on a national level.
But Meet the Press host David Gregory brought up the thorn in the side of Republicans. Within the party, some on the extreme right look at John McCain and Mitt Romney and see the failures of Republicans in nominating someone conservative enough to win the White House.
Romney stuck to his belief in electability in his response. “I just happen to think that you want to combine conservatism with the ability to get elected,” he said. “You want someone who can garner the support of people across the country to say, ‘This is a person I trust,’ who will implement the kind of conservative approach that I think America is looking for.”
Many in the conservative media agree. Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry gave their prescription in the pages of the National Review, a conservative news publication. Regular order needs to be reapplied to politics and the Constitution, they wrote. Conservatives can then engage in “presenting platforms, persuading voters, winning elections, and setting policy, sometimes heroically and excitingly, more often competently and reliably.”
The importance of Christie for the Republican Party is that he is a popular Republican governor in a Democratic state. He might be able to translate that popularity to the general population, capturing much-needed independent voters. In the 2012 presidential race, President Barack Obama walked away with 58 percent of New Jersey’s support; Romney took only 41 percent.
RealClearPolitics, which aggregates polling data on races, has Christie leading his Democratic opponent. Christie captured 58.8 percent, and his opponent, Barbara Buono, trailed, at 34.7 percent.
It is a lead Christie has enjoyed in the polls for months. A senior adviser to the governor, speaking to the Washington Post on conditions of anonymity, said, “I think he’s shown that he can govern in a conservative way, but in a bipartisan way at the same time.”
Self-proclaimed “Essex County Democrat by birth” Martin Arasin gave the Post a voice to this from a voter perspective. “Chris Christie is the epitome of a no-nonsense — not a politician, of a businessman doing the right thing for the state. If he doesn’t like something, he comes out and says it,” he said.
That mindset may win Christie support in his home state and from other national Republican figures like Romney who agree on a need for the party to win in order to implement an agenda, but how will it fare with the rest of the GOP? The electoral math might not add up to Republicans winning nationally.
In 2012, Obama won a 51 percent majority of votes in the United States. The Economist found that in the districts of the 144 House Republicans voting against raising the debt ceiling, that number drops to 38 percent. These districts reward a kind of hard-line conservative that is out of step with the bipartisan, no-nonsense stance of Christie.
The election in these localities isn’t concerned with beating the Democrat — it is concerned with beating the Republican. The missive of “It’s the election, stupid” does not resonate, because the fear of losing Republican representation doesn’t exist.