#13: Governor Chris Christie’s Debate Jab

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #13, on the subject of Governor Chris Christie’s Debate Jab.

I do not presently have television access (if you want to help fix that, start with the Patreon campaign, whose first priorities are to keep this website hosted, pay for my Internet access, and otherwise keep me online, but beyond that will hopefully cover things like new movies and television access).  I did not see the third Republican debate–but I have made a point of reading quite a bit about it from several sides.  One moment that stands out in the coverage comes from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and I consider it worth covering here in part because I was, after all, assigned to a New Jersey political news beat, but also because I think it has ramifications for the national election.  The moment was mentioned in several articles, but the best report of it that I saw came from Yahoo! Politics reporter Michael Walsh, who in a collection of six Best one-liners of the third GOP presidential debate listed it second.  To lay the foundation, let me quote a large part of his article:

Debate moderator John Harwood asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie what we should do to deal with anthropogenic climate change.

Christie’s response began with a criticism of what he sees as the proposed solution from Democrats–namely more taxes and government involvement–to which Harwood reiterated his question.

Christie continued his answer by saying that “we” should invest in all types of energy.  Again, before Christie finished speaking, Harwood asked another question:  “You mean government?”

“No, John.  John, do you want me to answer or do you want to answer?”  Christie said to laughter.  “How are we going to do this?  Because, I’ve got to tell you the truth–even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called rude.”

After that rejoinder, Christie proceeded to outline his energy plan, uninterrupted, of working with the private sector to make solar and wind energy affordable for businesses and individuals–repeating that government intervention and more taxes are not the answer.

(The article is worth reading in its entirety.  The other moments were from Donald Trump reacting to John Kasich, Marco Rubio responding to Jeb Bush’s attack on him, Mike Huckabee refusing to attack Donald Trump, Ted Cruz complaining about differences in media handling between the Democratic and Republican debates, and Carly Fiorina on being accused of not having smiled enough in the previous debate.)

Although it is much too early in the process to exclude the possibility of anyone becoming the next President, let alone the next Republican nominee (the reason George Pataki has not withdrawn), Christie is certainly a dark horse in this race, a long shot (the British PaddyPower Sport betting site as of October 29 lists him at 20/1 to be the Republican nominee, six candidates with better odds led by Marco Rubio at 11/8 and Donald Trump at 4/1; he lists as in a four-way tie for eighth with 40/1 to be President, with Hillary Clinton at 5/6 and Marco Rubio at 4/1 leading the pack).  He is probably not going to be the next President of the United States.

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However, he might be the next Vice President.

The position of Vice President on the ticket is an interesting one.  Voters are not voting for you, and you are not really asking them to vote for you.  They will ask themselves the question of whether they would trust you to run the country should, God forbid, something happen to the President–the reason Thomas Eagleton’s mental health record was a disaster for the George McGovern candidacy in 1972–but Christie has run a state, and done that well enough that he was endorsed for re-election by many of the state’s Democratic elected officials.  What would keep a man from being President (such as possibly the “Bridgegate” scandal) is ignored when you are running for the second seat–witness current Vice President Joe Biden, who was knocked out of the Democratic Presidential primary race in 1988 on allegations of plagiarism (both in his speeches and in his Law School essays) but who was not considered a liability as Obama’s running mate.  It was even joked in the early days of Obama’s presidency that Biden was his insurance policy–no one would assassinate the President because that would make him responsible for advancing “Smokin’ Joe” to Commander in Chief.  Beyond the simple question of whether the Vice President could do the job if it became necessary, no one considers his qualifications and few consider his politics.

What does matter in a Vice Presidential running mate is what we might call his “attack chops”.  Presidential candidates, and to some degree Presidents, have the problem of needing to look strong without looking nasty.  Vice Presidential candidates, and Vice Presidents, are thus called upon to be the vocal defenders of the ticket, the one who will tackle opponents directly.  We excuse the second man on the ticket, because we are not voting for him, and that gives him a lot of freedom to speak his mind and defend the ticket, to say things that the Presidential candidate (or the President) could not say without staining his own reputation and losing “political capital”.  We dislike Presidents who have a nasty bark, but the same trait in a Vice President is seen as protective, because he is not defending himself but his President.

Christie has once again proved that he has that bark.  He has the necessary aggressiveness to be the Vice President and the Vice Presidential candidate.

He is also viewed as more moderate–a Republican governor who managed to make progress in what is regarded a Democratic state with Democratically-controlled legislative houses, because he was able to compromise and work across the aisle.  Conservatives are going to regard him a RINO, but he is going to appeal to the independent middle.

I can see a number of possible scenarios in which some other candidate might be a better choice.

  • If Trump wins, he would do better with Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio in the second seat.  That’s partly because a Trump ticket probably needs a stabilizing “insider” anchor, someone who is viewed as understanding politics.  It’s also because Trump is already closely tied to New Jersey.  As I understand it, Trump is officially a New Yorker–and that matters, because the Constitution specifies that the candidates for President and Vice President must come from different states–but even so, the connection of Trump to Atlantic City suggests that the ticket would need to spread its appeal by choosing someone not from the northeast corridor.  A Bush/Rubio (or Rubio/Bush) ticket would suffer from similar problems.
  • There is a viable argument to the effect that any white male political insider who became the nominee ought to choose a running mate that was not a white male political insider–thus Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson rise to the top of the list as good Vice Presidential options.  They have neither the political experience nor the obvious fighter instincts of Christie, but they have an appeal to voters who are otherwise considered strong Democratic demographics.  Marco Rubio would be a good compromise here, Bobby Jindal or Ted Cruz less so.  Of course, the Vice Presidential candidate does not have to be chosen from among the Presidential hopefuls, but there is some sense in choosing someone who has already become a recognized figure in the race.
  • If the nominee is seen as more moderate, the party might be best served by having a more conservative running mate to appeal to its conservative wing.  Most of the “establishment” candidates in the race are more conservative, and this is rather unlikely overall.

However, if the nomination goes to Carson, Fiorina, or Rubio, or maybe Bush, Christie has been positioned as the ideal running mate.  He might well become the next Vice President of the United States.

In addition to blog posts in the Politics and Elections categories, the reader is referred to previous articles, the several linked within the blog post plus The Early 2016 Presidential Race, The Republican Dilemma, and other articles in the Law and Politics section of the main site.

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