It’s also good for fundraising. Since this boomlet began and the Christie for president drumbeat started getting louder at the end of last year, the collections of the Republican State Committee for New Jersey have taken off. A lot of that money—30 percent of it—is from out-of-state donors. If you compare that figure to the year previous, it’s more than double. So I think for all those things, he’s weighing the decision very carefully and using what little time is left on the clock.
What do you think he’ll do?
I still doubt he’ll get into the race. He’s been very insistent and clear about not having the desire at this stage in his life to run for president. He’s very close to his family, he’s deeply rooted here in North Jersey and he has young kids. He speaks quite eloquently that he doesn’t think it’s appropriate—that if he doesn’t have the fire in his belly to wake up in hotel rooms in Des Moines at 5:30 in the morning and spend 20-hour days hopscotching around the country, then he shouldn’t be asking voters to vote for him or for donors to give money to him. He’s been consistent about that, and I’m not sure he wants to do the hard work of becoming president—yet. But, I think it’s definitely in his plans.
Did you see this coming? When was the first time you remember Christie being associated with a run for national office?
The first time that I mentioned it was when he cancelled the plans to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River last October. To me, that signaled he was a guy that had his eyes on the national stage because that made him a hero to fiscal conservatives and it gave him standing as a guy who not only cut government spending but who defied the big government conventional wisdom about public works projects. I wrote in my column at the time that it seemed he was signaling that he had his eye on bigger things.
What does the national media get wrong or fail to report about Christie?
They take a lot of broad stroke soundbites about his record. It drives me crazy in some of the television appearances. He goes on the cable networks, and they just take fresh-from-the-Christie-press-office talking points and traffic them as fact. I haven’t seen a lot of reporting that breaks it down or aggressively questions it.
For example, he has taken on the unions, but he did that with the help of Democratic Party leaders in the legislature. The Democrats control the legislature. Also, that he closed an $11 billion deficit in a $33 billion budget is just not totally accurate. He had no choice: by the state constitution, he has to pass a balanced budget. So, it’s not like he came in here, soaked up all this red ink and passed for the first two years in a row balanced budgets in New Jersey. Every governor has passed a balanced budget in New Jersey going back to Woodrow Wilson.
To be fair, the national media has also focused on the big picture optics and they should—the taking on the teachers union, his fight with public employees and his successful ability to win back rollbacks in health and pension benefits. They also focus a lot on his combative style, which is carefully marketed on YouTube.
Who in the national media covers him well?
I’ve seen some good profiles and some good stuff. Matt Bai’s profile in The New York Times Magazine, for example, was superb. I don’t want to make a broad stoke indictment of the national press, but there is a fair amount of stuff that makes me want to gag.
Have you observed any differences in the way Christie represents his persona and policies on a national levels versus in New Jersey?
No. He’s been consistent.
How are the people of New Jersey reacting to the speculation?
His job approval ratings have climbed to over 50%. A lot of that is attributed to his well-received handling of Hurricane Irene, which he did deserve a lot of credit for. But some of the hype might also be reflected in the rebound of his poll numbers.
Has the speculation caused any complications with his ability to govern or in relationships with other legislators or interest groups?
I don’t think so. This spring he was able to negotiate the health pension benefit rollback and that was concluded in June. He simultaneously passed his second budget, and the hype was in the air back then. The legislature, which is part time, has been out of session for the summer and won’t really come back until after the election. So it hasn’t really interfered.