Chris Christie: big enough to take on Hillary Clinton
New Jersey Governor with 'regular guy' appeal looks set to seek Republican nomination for 2016 race
IS THE engagingly Soprano-esque figure of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on his way to the White House?
He is the overweight tough guy, with an arm always ready to throw about a shoulder in need of comfort, who introduced himself to America and the world when touring the wreckage of his Jersey Shore with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last autumn.
Christie is a Republican, but his day at the top of the news cycle offered priceless and perfectly timed testimony that there could be another sort of Republican.
Mitt Romney, a toff in thrall to the Tea Party right, stayed away, attacked Obama for wasting taxpayers' money on relief efforts, and tanked in the presidential election. Christie, his very size testifying to his man-of-the-people persona, became the potential frontrunner for a Republican White House even before the votes were counted for Obama's second term.
Now it is very nearly official. A tape of a talk he gave to a private Republican National Committee lunch in Boston last week, played to the Sunday Times, makes it clear that he is positioning himself for a run in 2016.
The idea is to ditch the worst of the Tea Party and Ayn Randian extremism which Republicans now believe cost them the White House and the Senate in the wake of President 'Dubya' Bush, while keeping the core values of individual enterprise and traditional family.
"There's nothing wrong with our principles," said Christie. "In fact, I believe the American people support our principles more than they support [the Democrats']. The problem is we've got to focus on winning again… And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win."
With one or two caveats, Christie has what it takes. There is more than a little of the Bill Clinton in him, the supreme politician of the age. High school photographs even give him something of Clinton's curly-lipped, Elvis Presley insouciance.
He easily passes the basic litmus test of presidential politics: does he have the "regular guy" charisma that can convince the man in the sports bar and the mother in the playground that he is one of them?
As he proved on his day out with Obama, he certainly does. He actually benefits from the image New Jersey has acquired through The Sopranos and the reality TV shows which followed, shamelessly celebrating values which truly are American.
He boasts of his working-class Irish/Sicilian family background and of how he grew up believing that there is "no argument not worth having" and "no grudge not worth keeping".
On the tape of his lunch talk, he boasts of breaking the entrenched unions to get the state budget under control and he describes his governing style: "You've got two choices as governor. You can sidle up to them and whisper sweet nothings in their ear, you know, trying to hope they just don't punch you. Or the second alternative is you punch them first."
He might be heavy - his weight is considered a potential liability for health reasons more than anything to do with class or style, and he is reported to have shed three of his 25 stone since weight-loss surgery in May - but he could not be faster on his feet in politics. Republicans were furious at his teaming up with Obama in the run-up to the election, but with one sharp stab of the stiletto he cleared the unelectable Right from his path.
Christie is up for re-election for Governor this year - a contest he is sure to win - and, as the New York Times pointed out yesterday, he is using the campaign as a laboratory in search of a Republican pitch which could win back the votes of women, Hispanics and blacks.
While doffing his cap to the grassroots in the Republican red state strongholds by vetoing gay marriage proposals and sponsoring tougher abortion restriction, he has set up a Spanish-speaking campaign office and buys Spanish-language television time.
And the Times reported that he has hired a slew of the Republican campaign strategists who won the White House for 'Dubya' Bush on the same strategy of offering a "different kind of Republican". He is being given money by the same billionaires that sponsored Bush as well as a new wave which includes Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
It is far too soon to be laying bets on the outcome of an election still three years away. Christie has first to win the Republican primary, a crowded contest which may yet feature Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, an Establishment choice if ever there was one.
And then he would have to beat the Democrat for the office.
That Democrat looks at this point to be Hillary Clinton and the formidable 'Billary' machine. Clinton has yet to officially declare, although last week brought a new signal of her intentions when Anthony Weiner, the New York mayoral candidate with the sexting problem, told a local reporter that his wife Huma Abedin, former Hillary aide, was already signed on for Hillary 2016. Aha!
Hillary is far from invincible and as Christie starts to look like a winner, the Billary nerves will be jangling. ·