Any sense how Christie’s campaign skills would translate to the national stage?
I don’t know. He’s a very nimble, powerful speaker in settings like town halls, but they are packed with mostly Republicans and admirers that applaud and hang on his every word. He doesn’t face that many audiences that dislike him.
He’s a really colorful guy, and he puts on the whole jersey schtick—the “I’m going to get in your grill if you get in my grill,” Jersey-shore kind of attitude. It really connects with people. He also portrays himself as someone who tells it straight. And it is straight. To the conventional political wisdom and logic, he’ll just say, “that’s crap,” or “that just doesn’t make sense,” and come up with arguments to demonstrate how ludicrous the case is. A lot of it is self-serving, but he’s tremendous at it.
He’s also gotten into these well-publicized confrontations with teachers and union people, and he has given them the verbal back of his hand. This has made him kind of a rock star with conservative activists around the country: “Yeah, you give ’em hell, don’t take their crap, Chris!” That plays well with a certain audience, but when you get into middle America, in Iowa and Wisconsin, and with average Americans, I’m not so sure the Jersey smash mouth approach will translate so well.
What have been his biggest successes and failures as governor?
The pension and health benefits were clearly one of his biggest successes—you can’t take that away from him. He’s also been very successful in demonstrating to the political class that he’s in charge; that he has the levers of power and he intends to use them aggressively. In Trenton, everything flows from him. He’s been very successful at that.
In terms of failures, the state lost out on the ability to win $400 million in Race to the Top funds because of a bureaucratic error in the application and that led to the firing of his education commissioner. That was a big failure. There was an opportunity for the state to really shine in that process and they dropped the ball on that.