The Agenda

Christie

New Jersey needs its governor. By successfully transforming New Jersey’s public sector — by bringing it closer to the performance of the public sector in Massachusetts, let alone Virginia or Utah — he will have made a great contribution not only to the state, but to the American future. But that will take at least several more years, at which point it would make a great deal of sense for Christie to think seriously about running for president. 

Running now, however, would be a mistake. It would make his accomplishments in New Jersey so far vulnerable. There is a fairly high chance that he wouldn’t secure the Republican presidential nomination in this cycle, yet it would be almost impossible for him to salvage his political career back home. His leverage will have evaporated. 

As Brian McGovern of the conservative blog Save Jersey observes, the governor has seen an impressive turnaround in his approval ratings:

Back in May according to this same Fairleigh Dickinson/PublicMind Poll, Governor Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey was 44% with a disapproval rating of…44%. It was an even strength match of cheerleaders and detractors. Fast forward to September 27, 2011, and we have quite the shift.

Governor Christie now enjoys an approval rating of 54% with a disapproval rating of only 36%. To give this some perspective, the Governor’s numbers are basically the opposite of the President’s nationwide!

Not everyone is thrilled, as is usually the case. Public employee households contribute an approval rating of only 37% with a disapproval of 57%, but when you take them out of the equation the numbers actually shoot up to 59% approve and 30% disapprove.

There has also been an equally large swing in the right track/wrong track question. Back in May 36% said that New Jersey was heading in the right direction. Now, just a few short months later, that number has jumped to 45%. [Emphasis added]

I find it incredible that 37% of public employee households approve of the governor. That is about 15 percentage points higher than I would have guessed. Christie has momentum in New Jersey. The national attention could help him secure more seats in the legislature, which would in turn allow him to accelerate and deepen his structural reform efforts. 

I will say, however, that Christie’s speech on “Real American Exceptionalism” was really exceptional, and it did bring out the fanboy in me:

In New Jersey over the last 20 months, you have actually seen divided government that is working.  To be clear, it does not mean that we have no argument or acrimony.  There are serious disagreements, sometimes expressed loudly—Jersey style.

Here is what we did.  We identified the problems.  We proposed specific means to fix them.  We educated the public on the dire consequences of inaction.  And we compromised, on a bi-partisan basis, to get results.  We took action.

How so you ask?  Leadership and compromise.

Leadership and compromise is the only way you can balance two budgets with over $13 billion in deficits without raising taxes while protecting core services.

Leadership and compromise is the only way you reform New Jersey’s pension and health benefits system that was collectively $121 billion underfunded.

Leadership and compromise is the only way you cap the highest property taxes in the nation and cap the interest arbitration awards of some of the most powerful public sector unions in the nation at no greater than a 2% increase.

In New Jersey we have done this, and more, because the Executive Branch has not sat by and waited for others to go first to suggest solutions to our state’s most difficult problems.

Being a mayor, being a governor, being a president means leading by taking risk on the most important issues of the day.  It has happened in Trenton.

In New Jersey we have done this with a legislative branch, held by the opposite party, because it is led by two people who have more often put the interests of our state above the partisan politics of their caucuses.

Our bi-partisan accomplishments in New Jersey have helped to set a tone that has taken hold across many other states.  It is a simple but powerful message–lead on the tough issues by telling your citizens the truth about the depth of our challenges.  Tell them the truth about the difficulty of the solutions.  This is the only effective way to lead in America during these times.

And then there was this:

The United States must also become more discriminating in what we try to accomplish abroad. We certainly cannot force others to adopt our principles through coercion.  Local realities count; we cannot have forced makeovers of other societies in our image.  We need to limit ourselves overseas to what is in our national interest so that we can rebuild the foundations of American power here at home – foundations that need to be rebuilt in part so that we can sustain a leadership role in the world for decades to come.

The central point of Christie’s speech, as I understand it, is that American exceptionalism is not something we should constantly assert, like a blustery sports fan struggling to mask her inadequacies, but rather it is something we need to actually demonstrate by doing the hard work of reinventing ourselves and kicking ass. This is an implicit rebuke to blowhards on the left and right who believe that American will and always will be Number One no matter what — no matter how dysfunctional, wasteful, and broken our public sector happens to be, no matter how many unforced errors we make. Guess what: the rest of the world won’t stand still, and soaking the rich to pay the soaring costs of a government that doesn’t work isn’t the magic formula for making America stronger, richer, and freer. Everyone should pay their fair share. You’ve got it. But we need to think hard about what we’re actually getting for our money, because we can no longer afford to set it on fire just for laughs. Literally hundreds of millions of scrappy non-Americans are nipping at our heels.

Chris Cillizza has much more:

 

The “why” behind Christie’s refusal to refuse is far tougher to figure out. Among the possibilities:

1) He wants to raise his national profile (and more national money) and knows that the second he — finally, finally for real this time — rules out running, his capacity to do both things drops drastically.

2) He is genuinely reconsidering the race and want to buy himself some time to sort through the details. By keeping the door open — even a crack — he knows that the chatter will keep up both in the activist and donor community. And, whether or not he means to do so, you can bet Christie’s equivocation will make it harder for the likes of Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to close the deal with still-on-the-fence major donors in this final week of the third fundraising quarter.

What we know: Christie is up to something. He has proven himself to be a very savvy manipulator of his public image during his first few years in office and has a political team — led by Mike Duhaime who managed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid — that is well-versed in how the presidential game works.

Duhaime is an exceptionally smart guy, and quite young to have achieved such prominence.

Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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