On the other hand, Christie could turn out to be the rare New Jersey governor who survives the job. He’s already confounded expectations once. In a year when every politician with any degree of responsibility has appeared feckless and weak—and has suffered in the polls—Christie has figured out a way to connect with the public. But to sustain that connection over the long haul will require more than just bombast. While his tough talk is garnering the most attention, he is also, in a sporadic and underappreciated way, fashioning a more optimistic message, one in which deficit reduction and spending cuts become testaments to the fundamental Republican—and Reaganite—idea that the future is bright, that we can save ourselves from our self-indulgence, that we will rebuild the country from our own shared sacrifice.
It was another day in October, another town hall, this time at a South Brunswick firehouse. For 90 minutes, anticipation had been building for a display of rhetorical fireworks. But the meeting’s last question came from a 10-year-old girl who was inviting the governor to speak at her school, and the Christie staffers seemed resigned to leaving the town hall without a moment in the bag. But then Christie did something unexpected. He created another type of moment.
He launched into a reverie about wanting to give the girl the same “great New Jersey life” he and others have had. “As I look out in the crowd, I think most of us have lived a little life, and we probably lived it here,” he said in a voice that was softer than his usual bellow. “And we’re still here, which means we love this place, because there’s no good financial reason for us to be staying. New Jersey is an actor, a player in our lives. And I want this to be that place for her.” Christie told of how he was able to raise his family in New Jersey not far from where he grew up, so his parents could be involved in the lives of his four children, and how he worried that opportunity might not be available to others in the future “because they simply will not be able to afford it. They’ll be forced to make the choice to go someplace else, where it’s easier to find a job, where it’s less expensive to live, where they’re going to build a new life that’ll be apart from us.” He continued, “I don’t want our generation to be the one that has to hear about the great North Carolina life that our children and grandchildren have, the great Florida life they have, the great Virginia life they have, and have to wonder, If we had done the tough things we needed to do, could they have stayed here.”
As Christie spoke, the firehouse fell completely quiet, save for the hum of the ventilation system. A silver-haired woman a few seats down from me dabbed at her eyes. “And so we’ve got a choice to make,” Christie said. “We can bury our heads in the sand, we can surround ourselves with the creature comforts that life in New Jersey has provided to us … or at this moment in our history, we can say, ‘To hell with that, it’s hard, I’m going to have to sacrifice something,’ but I want this state to be a place where my kids and grandkids can grow up and have the great life that I had.”
For now, though, that’s a Chris Christie moment nowhere to be found on YouTube.