Chris Christie is the tea party's second-worst nightmare

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times (November 7, 2013)

Gov. Chris Christie’s big reelection win in New Jersey has unsettled many Democrats who now see him as the most formidable possible Republican candidate for president in 2016. But nervousness on the left is nothing compared with the apoplexy on the right.

Rush Limbaugh ranted about Christie after Tuesday’s election, saying the Republican governor is the choice of the liberal media and the GOP power brokers who hate the tea party. (Last July, it is worth noting, Limbaugh predicted that Christie would end up as the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 2016.)

Meanwhile, Sean Hannity told his radio audience he does not understand why any conservative could like Christie, because Christie spends so much energy “lecturing” his fellow Republicans about their failings. 

If anyone was being lectured in Christie’s victory speech Tuesday night, it certainly was tea party folks and their representatives in Congress who shut down the federal government last month. Christie said his win was a vote for government that gets things done through nonpartisan cooperation. He called on Republicans to reject demands for ideological purity and instead do as he did and reach out to voter groups they have shunned -- blacks and Latinos, for instance.

Christie is a pretty conservative guy on most issues, but because he embraced President Obama in the dark days after Hurricane Sandy and because he is considered soft on immigration and Obamacare, tea partiers call him a heretic. Conventional wisdom has been that such disdain among the most fervent members of the Republican Party base will make it impossible for Christie to emerge triumphant from the 2016 primaries. Conventional wisdom, however, could easily be wrong.

In his post-election analysis on CNN, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich theorized that Christie could string together victories outside the party’s conservative strongholds in the South. And, Gingrich said, by doing well in more moderate regions from New Hampshire to California, Christie would only have to run a respectable second or third in states such as South Carolina to gather an ample share of delegates -- perhaps enough to win the nomination.

All of this chatter about 2016 is wildly premature, of course. There are a few ticking time bombs in Christie’s past that could derail his ambitions (including his past life as a lobbyist in the service of a securities industry group that counted notorious scam artist Bernie Madoff among its senior officials). Still, the people of New Jersey reelected Christie by a huge margin, even though a majority of them disagree with their governor on issues ranging from raising the minimum wage to gay marriage. New Jersey voters simply like the guy.

Christie’s appealing persona overrides differences in political views, and that may be the biggest advantage he has over potential competitors such as Rand Paul, who is an unsmiling cold fish, and Ted Cruz, who, outside the bubble of the tea party, makes people’s skin crawl. Christie is that classic politician you’d like to have a beer with while a Bruce Springsteen song plays on an old jukebox in the corner of the bar. 

Of course, Christie’s longtime adoration of fellow Jersey boy Springsteen simply provides more proof to the wacko wing of his party that he is dangerously comfortable with commie pinko liberals.