After Chris Christe’s reelection Tuesday night, many pundits proclaimed him the leading Republican 2016 presidential candidate. Even if you’re willing to accept that a race with no declared candidates can have a front-runner, it doesn’t appear to be Christie. As New York’s Jonathan Chait and Frank Rich explained, the New Jersey governor’s support for gun control, immigration reform, and Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion means he’s likely too moderate for GOP primary voters (in addition to a host of other issues). However, he might get some help from an unexpected source. According to the Washington Post, Democrats have kicked off a “concerted offensive” to hurt Christie’s chances in 2016 by painting him as a “hard-edged conservative.”
The Post is vague on who exactly these “top Democratic officials” are, but the plan is to link Christie to the controversial policies of GOP leaders across the country when he becomes head of the Republican Governors Association. “He’s going to have to answer the question ‘Is this good for the states to focus on radical social agendas?’ ” said Colm O’Comartun, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.
It’s possible the strategy is more sophisticated than it seems (help Christie win the nomination, then sit back as he verbally abuses voters?) but it appears Christie’s potential Republican presidential rivals have the more subtle attack plan. As TPM notes, on Wednesday, both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio praised Christie while offering passive-aggressive reminders that he doesn’t have the qualities the GOP base wants in a presidential candidate. Cruz told ABC News:
I think it is terrific that he is brash, that he is outspoken, and that he won his race … But I think we need more leaders in Washington with the courage to stand for principle. And in particular, Obamacare is not working.
And Rubio said on CNN:
Clearly [Christie] was able to speak to the hopes and aspirations of people within New Jersey. That’s important. We want to win everywhere and Governor Christie has certainly shown he has a way of winning in New Jersey, in states like New Jersey… so I congratulate him on that.”
Then there’s the aggressive-aggressive approach. After telling CNN on Tuesday that while the GOP is “more conservative” nationally, there’s room even for “moderates like Chris Christie,” Rand Paul let loose the next day. He didn’t mention Christie by name, but at a Senate hearing, Paul railed against the “stronger than the storm” ads featuring the governor, which were made using federal aid money. Paul said:
Some of these ads, people running for office put their mug all over these ads while they’re in the middle of a political campaign. In New Jersey, $25 million was spent on ads that included somebody running for political office. I’m thinking there might be a conflict of interest there. That’s a real problem. And that’s why, when people are trying to do good and trying to use the taxpayer’s money wisely, they’re offended to see our money spent on political ads. That’s just offensive.
Paul did refrain from calling Christie the “king of bacon,” so maybe this was his way of giving the governor a short post-election reprieve.