Comparing a potential 2016 Chris Christie presidential run to the failed presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney (2012), John McCain (2008), and Bob Dole (1996) is quite common. He is a “moderate” and all moderate Republicans lose as they fail to excite the base. That’s the short version.
But does this argument hold water?
Is Christie doomed from the start?
Chris Christie might not be the movement conservatives the base would like to see nominated, but he is quite different from the losing crops of candidates of the past.
No, Chris Christie is Not Romney, McCain, or Dole
Comparing the Presidential Hopefuls is a Mistake
Bob Dole is John McCain is Mitt Romney is Chris Christie. That is often how the conservative argument goes when building the case against a more moderate, establishment choice for the 2016 presidential nomination. But in the case of Chris Christie, the argument simply does not hold much water and it will likely not be an effective one in 2016 if Christie runs for the White House.
Chris Christie has a Dominant Personality
In 2012, exit polls showed voters believed that Mitt Romney would be a better President than Barack Obama on a majority of issues. But many of those voters still voted for Obama based on a combination of his personality and the appearance that he “cared” about people. Romney lost big time on the empathy question. He was caricatured as a stiff rich white guy who couldn’t connect to the average American. His professional demeanor and his refusal to talk about himself often hid the great personality and sense of humor he actually had. Likewise, both Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2012 were mostly dull and uninspiring throughout most of their campaigns.
And then there is Chris Christie. He can be an arrogant jerk. He can be loud, abrasive, and obnoxious. He gets hyper-emotional at times. But he is also funny, self-deprecating, and good-humored. He can go on late-night talk shows and it isn’t completely awkward. He likes to talk about himself and people actually like to listen. Chris Christie has a personality and, gosh darn it, people like him.
Chris Christie has a Better Electoral Record
Unlike Christie, Mitt Romney bailed after one term as Governor of Massachusetts. That Romney won in blue Massachusetts was an electability argument he often used. He won in blue Massachusetts therefore he could win anywhere, they said. But the problem with that argument is that Romney won when he was running as a pro-choice, socially liberal moderate. He changed his political philosophy mid-term and did not run for re-election on his new ideas, instead taking his new platform to the national stage for the first time. Both Dole and McCain were longtime US Senators from red states who had little competition for their seats over the several decades they served.
Then there is Chris Christie. Like Romney, he is the Governor of a blue state. But unlike Romney, Christie ran as a pro-life Republican and self-described conservative. And also unlike Romney, he ran for re-election and not only won, but destroyed his liberal competition. The teacher’s unions opposed Christie, but it did not matter. The pro-choice lobby who uses phony “women’s rights” arguments opposed the pro-life Christie, and he won the votes of 57% of women despite facing a female Democrat in the general election. Christie can actually point to his electoral record and say that it proves he has across-the-board appeal and he can win. None of the other candidates can say that.
Christie is Not Seen as “Out of Touch”
Mitt Romney was easily caricatured as a ruthless business shark willing to fire people to turn a profit. His taxes and tax rates were a major campaign negative, even if they were greatly reduced by the millions of dollars he donated to charity. He started and ran businesses after business. He led the “evil” Bain Capital. He came from a powerful, wealthy, well-connected family. Romney was a man that people simply could not relate too.
By the time McCain ran for President in 2008 he was decades removed from his Vietnam War service. He was a millionaire who could not remember how many houses he had and did not know how to use email. (Not actual criticisms of mine, but silly campaign attack from Obama that worked, sadly.) Like Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000, both McCain and Romney came off as out-of-touch and they all had a hard time relating to the average voter. Is Christie similar to the losing candidates of the last three decades? Romney, McCain, Kerry, Gore, Dole along with George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, and Walter Mondale before them were all cut from the same disconnective cloth.
Compare now the winning candidates over the last three decades. Reagan was the great communicator who man-handled a hostile media and earned the trust of millions. Bill Clinton stuck his thumb out and he “felt our pain.” He was just a boy from Hope, Arkansas. George W. Bush was from a wealthy family, sure, but he was also an alcoholic who found faith. Like Reagan, he connected with voters in a spiritual way that few other candidates rarely attempt to duplicate these days. The back-story of Barack Obama’s (a.k.a. President I, Me, My, and Myself) was carefully crafted. He was a disadvantaged kid with an identity crisis. He sacrificed wealth to be a “community leader” and work on the streets. His mom died of cancer. He cares.
While Mitt Romney loathed talking about himself – a requirement of a good presidential candidate – and talking of his good deeds, Christie loves to do both. He’s just a middle-class kid from Jersey. He grew up neither rich nor well-connected. He enjoys being the center of fat jokes, appearing on late-night shows specifically to do so. He did not go to fancy private schools. His parents were bi-political: his dad a Republican, his mother a Democrat. He is simply not a Romney or a McCain or a Kerry or a Gore. He is a Reagan and a Clinton and an Obama. Christie’s story fits the mold of the winners, not the losers. And this is why it is a mistake to simply say he is a moderate, therefore he cannot win.