Pethokoukis, Politics and Public Opinion, Economics, U.S. Economy

Is Christie more Giuliani 2.0 or the GOP’s Bill Clinton?


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

11 thoughts on “Is Christie more Giuliani 2.0 or the GOP’s Bill Clinton?

  1. Too early to say of course, but remember…a GOP’er has to win in the primaries…drink the kool-aid…

    In the primaries, can Christie best Cruz? Maybe so…aided by his surname?

    Somehow the moderates McCain and Romney prevailed, so maybe can too Christie…but the GOP appears to be in a long-running purification bath, and the Christies of the world might not survive the scrub…

  2. Not a great analogy. Recall: before the myth of Clinton-as-electoral-Colossus was written, there was reality: that in Clinton’s first election, he won only 43% of the vote against two candidates who split the populist/conservative galaxy of voters, and in his second election against the hapless/feckless Bob Dole, Clinton could only persuade 49% of Americans to vote for him. Clinton’s electoral performances as a % of the popular vote rank him among the worst Democrat performers in the last 60 year. He was hardly the demographic-dominator that we wrongly remember him being.

    What does this mean for Christie? Who knows? But if we’re going to blue-sky about what might motivate voters in 2016, let’s do it with accurate memories.

  3. I hate to comment on a man’s looks, but Christie, who make’s a mockery of the challenge to live up to his name, is the quintessential RINO.

  4. Other than being elected twice in NJ… this time with the wholehearted support of the Dems, name an accomplishment of Christie? The state is the third worst tax environment and ranks near the bottom of most other rankings. It stunk when it took office and will still stink when the time to pick a nominee comes. It can’t improve because to gain the support of the D party he threw all the downticket Rs under his campaign bus, leaving him a hostile prog legislature to be all bi-partisan and sell out to.

    Better still, point to a conservative act of Chris Christie. Forget words, deeds. None known.

  5. “[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?”

    Pretty much describes the failed GOP candidates from 2008 and 2012. Aside from geographic origins, that is.

  6. Christie will be the Republican’s Bill Clinton when you find a Democratic Ross Perot to split the vote. Without that, neither Clinton nor Christie have a chance.

  7. If Christie is the nominee, I will NOT vote for him. I’ve had enough of RINO squishes as our nominee only to lose the national election. Conservatives all over the country will stay home. See we have principles and we live our lives based on those principles. Christie will NOT win a national election as real conservatives will not vote for him and his dem buddies will do the ole bait and switch and vote for their girl Hillary.

  8. For all the media scramble seeking a candidate to influence the 2016 election, Chris Christie is not the Bill Clinton political quarterback of 1992 they seek; nor is Hillary, for that matter, as both parties will soon come to find out.

    The Clinton 1992 phenomenon was unique, with a unique candidate who was not expected to win, and won by fluke because of the momentum of a third party movement headed by Perot because of the GOP failures of the era and the runaway deficits caused by patronage and political favoritism from years of political sovereignty after JFK was assassinated and a badly disorganized Democratic Party because of that tragedy, whether spontaneous, or conspiracy.

    So where is the cure except slogging through the hard fought benefits of adversarial democracy without having a third more independent party?

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