Did you hear the news? Chris Christie is going to save the Republicans from Rick Perry, who was supposed to save them from Mitt Romney but turned out to be a completely inept debater and a traitor on issues like illegal immigration and injecting little girls with mental retardation. Now, granted, Christie has said a hundred times that he isn't ready to run for president and won't do it. He's even threatened to kill himself to show how serious he is. But with Perry proving himself less than ideal, the never-satisfied GOP elite is once again pining for a conservative savior who can unite the party (or at least the anti-Romney faction of the party) and defeat President Obama. According to various reports, Christie is telling donors that, public refusals notwithstanding, he's open to reconsidering. Yesterday, former New Jersey governor Tom Kean said Christie is "giving it a lot of thought."
But if conservatives think Christie is the answer to their every prayer, they may be making the same mistake they made with Perry allowing themselves to become enamored with the idea of Christie, while overlooking who he actually is. Conservatives know the New Jersey governor is a straight-talker who slashes budgets and takes on the public unions and yells at people on YouTube. Which is all great, obviously. But on some issues, Republican primary voters would be in for a rude awakening.
1. Illegal Immigration
The biggest chink in Rick Perry's armor so far has been his record on illegal immigration specifically, the legislation he passed as governor to allow illegal immigrants to pay the in-state tuition rate when attending state colleges and universities. It's this policy that has led many Republicans to question whether Perry really gets illegal immigration at all. But Chris Christie is hardly the ally that illegal-immigration foes are looking for. In 2010, Christie told Politico that America needs to come up with a "clear path to citizenship." He didn't say "for illegal immigrants," but since America already has a clear path to citizenship for legal immigrants, that's what he meant. This is an entirely reasonable and mainstream position, but in much of the GOP, they call it "amnesty."
Christie's opponents could also point to the time he insisted that being in the country illegally is not a crime but an "administrative matter." He's right simply overstaying your visa, for example, can get you deported but can't land you in jail. But to impassioned illegal-immigration warriors, we're not sure the nuance will be appreciated.
Then there's Christie's record on illegal immigration as a U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, the job he held before he became governor. Back in 2008, Bill Tucker, a producer on Lou Dobbs's now-deceased CNN show, could only find thirteen illegal-immigration cases prosecuted by Christie's office between 2002 and 2007. Tucker compared that to the U.S. Attorney's office in Kansas, which, despite a much smaller population, prosecuted 597 cases in the same time period. "This man is an utter embarrassment," Dobbs wailed.
2. Gun Control
In an October 2009 appearance on Sean Hannity's Fox News show, Christie voiced support for some gun-control laws:
HANNITY: Are there any issues where you are, quote, moderate to left as a Republican?
CHRISTIE: Listen, I favor some of the gun-control measures we have in New Jersey.
HANNITY: Bad idea.
CHRISTIE: Listen, we have a densely-populated state, and there's a big hand gun problem in New Jersey. Now, I don't support all the things that the governor supports by a long stretch. But I think on guns — certain gun control issues, looking at it from a law-enforcement perspective, seeing how many police officers were killed, we have an illegal gun problem in New Jersey.
HANNITY: Should every — should every citizen in the state be allowed to get a licensed weapon if they want one?
CHRISTIE: In New Jersey, that's not going to happen, Sean.
CHRISTIE: Listen, the Democratic legislature we have, there's no way those type of things — listen, at the end of the day, what I support are common sense laws that will allow people to protect themselves, but I also am very concerned about the safety of our police officers on the streets, very concerned. And I want to make sure that we don't have an abundance of guns out there.
Again, most people believe in having some "common sense" gun-control laws. But when politicians say "common sense gun-control laws," conservatives hear "seize all weapons and ban hunting and make everyone eat tofu." Compare Christie's even-handedness on guns to Perry, who literally goes jogging with a laser-sighted pistol in case he needs to shoot any coyotes. When Perry was asked earlier this month whether the supports gun control, he responded, "I am actually for gun control. Use both hands."
3. Climate Change
Rick Perry claims that climate change is a hoax that scientists have concocted as a way to get more funding. Chris Christie, after going back and forth on the issue a bit, said just this August that "climate change is real" and "human activity plays a role in these changes." As for those scheming scientists, Christie said that "when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts."
4. Race to the Top
Race to the Top, the federal program created by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in which large grants are offered to states that reform their education systems, shouldn't necessarily be a problem for conservatives. After all, some of the reforms Race to the Top hopes to incentivize, such as measuring teachers based on the success of their students, are goals shared by Republicans. But apparently it's a sin these days to support anything the Obama administration does. In the last GOP debate, Rick Perry proclaimed that "there is one person on this stage that is for Obama's Race to the Top and that is Governor Romney," adding, "[T]hat is not conservative." Mitt Romney then tied himself up in knots trying to deny the accusation. "I'm not sure exactly what he's saying," Romney claimed. "I don't support any particular program that he's describing."
Well, we know Chris Christie supports Race to the Top, because as governor, he applied for its funds. Christie also called Obama a "great ally" in education reform and praised Duncan as an "extraordinary leader on this issue."
Remember when people pretended, for a little while, that the ground-zero mosque was a slap in the face of the victims of 9/11? In the heat of the controversy, as Republican politicians demagogued the issue to death, Christie claimed that the mosque was "being used as a political football by both parties." He added that while we must "give some measure of deference to the feelings" of 9/11 families, "it would be wrong to so overreact to that, that we paint Islam with a brush of radical Muslim extremists that just want to kill Americans because we are Americans."
And while we're talking about Muslims, Christie came under fire by some anti-Islam hysterics this summer for his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to New Jersey Superior Court. Mohammed, a Muslim lawyer, at one point represented Mohammed Qatanani, a New Jersey imam facing deportation who had alleged past ties to Hamas. The ties were never proven and Qatanani wasn't deported, partly owing to the support he received from Jewish leaders, politicians, and law-enforcement officials like Chris Christie, who called Qatanani "a man of great goodwill." As for the outcry over his nomination of Mohammed, Christie said, "It's just crazy, and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."