Certainly an impressive win last night for Chris Christie. And a note from the Christie campaign team highlights just how impressive. The New Jersey governor won reeleection by large margins among, well, almost everybody in the deep-blue Garden State (via Politico):
Christie won among both men and women: 63 percent of men and 57 percent of women. His margin among women represents a 10-point improvement from 2009 when he won 45 percent of the vote … Christie won 21 percent of African-American voters – up from 9 percent in 2009 … Christie won an outright majority (51 percent) of the Hispanic vote – up from 32 percent in 2009 … Christie won every education level and income group … Christie won 32 percent of the Democratic vote … Christie won 66 percent of independents and 61 percent of moderates … He did this in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 700,000 voters.
Little surprise, then, that the media are describing Christie as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. But it’s early. Two years before the 2008 presidential election, it seemed a reasonable bet that the race for the White House would be Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, Christie skeptics point to the failed Giuliani campaign as a cautionary tale. The mayor was a northeasterner whose brash political style and policy moderation didn’t play well among national Republicans. Aren’t the comparisons to Christie obvious? Not to me. Giuliani was a tax-cutting hawk whose moderation was on social issues. Christie, in contrast, is a pro-lifer who has expressed personal opposition to same-sex marriage. And while Christie certainly has a big, blunt personality, he would seem to have more suburban appeal in a GOP primary than Giuliani, the thrice-married, urbane Manhattanite.
Maybe the better analogy is Christie as the GOP’s Bill Clinton. As columnist Matt Lewis wrote recently: “[Christie] could be the bizarro Bill Clinton. Just as America was willing to accept a ‘moderate’ Democratic governor from a Southern state in 1992, might they be willing to accept a “moderate” Republican from a Northeastern state in 2016?”
I would put it this way: Clinton ran as a modern, problem-solving reform Democrat. The Un-Mondale. Christie seems likely to run as a modern, problem-solving reform conservative. But he’ll need a policy agenda that supports his “we’re all in this together” persona. As Henry Olsen explains, “Christie’s New Jersey success ultimately rests on the notion that he represents the aspirations of average New Jerseyites against the elites.” He sided, for instance, with taxpayers over public sector unions in his battle over pensions.
But what would a national agenda look like? How can he avoid, as Olsen puts it, “the ‘many versus the few’ trap the Democrats are waiting to deploy” — the same one that snared Romney — while also proposing smart solutions to America’s challenges? Yes, business taxes must be cut and entitlements reformed. But at the same time, crony capitalist tax subsidies must be eliminated and social insurance programs redirected via means testing toward lower-income Americans. Cut top tax rates back to Clinton-era levels and cap deductions while also creating a more generous tax credit for families. End too-big-to-fail by breaking up the megabanks. In short, fashion an economic mobility agenda that also takes seriously modernizing the safety net for the demographics and problems — such as labor force participation and declining wages for lower-skill Americans — of the 21st century.
Maybe Christie can even call it his Putting People First agenda.
Follow James Pethokoukis on Twitter at @JimPethokoukis