Monday, August 05, 2013

Christie's Constituency

It's a fascinating article, written by Benjamin Wallace-Wells for New York magazine.  But unsurprisingly, the author confuses the northern half of New Jersey- roughly everything from the capital of Trenton north- with New Jersey.   He can be forgiven because as he honestly but misleadingly points out in the first paragraph

My wife grew up in the nineties in a lakeside town in Sussex County, a place so culturally distant from the sulfurous refineries near Elizabeth that it possessed its own municipal water-skiing team, and when her classmates at college would make fun of New Jersey, she genuinely did not know what they were talking about.

While rural-suburban Sussex County is distinct from Elizabeth (maybe 30 miles east and the same distance closer to New York City), it shares with that city and the rest of New Jersey's urban northeast a cultural affinity with the City of New York, especially Manhattan.   That is a cultural affinity southern New Jersey, closer to Philadelphia, lacks.

Still, Wallace-Wells paints a fairly accurate portrait of a governor whose zeitgeist runs parallel to that of the state he governs.    Though throughout the political dialogue there is major overlap between social and economic issues ignored by the overwrought distinction between "fiscal conservatism" and "social liberalism," New Jersey may be an exception.  A state in which abortion and gay rights generally are held in higher regard than gun rights, it is one in which, the author notes, "power is concentrated locally" and therefore

anger can be, too. One Democratic pollster who ran focus groups in the state during the recession told me he’d found less rage than he expected at banks and plutocrats and more directed locally at the schoolteachers and cops whose pensions drove local property taxes higher. “I had one guy in a focus group go on a rant about the pension his father, who was a retired cop, got from the town, that the pension was way too generous,” the pollster told me. “His father.”

Sadly, that may be more New Jersey (or, in the dismissive vernacular, "Jersey") than either the Sopranos or Jersey Shore, both of which presented a slice of peculiarly north Jersey culture.  

Probably largely unintentionally, Wallace-Wells describes the governor in such a way that would further endear him to the public unaware of the destruction he has brought upon the citizens of his state.  He writes

What Sandy did for Christie was to reveal him as an unexpectedly moving ­middle-class sentimentalist. A few days after the storm, flying over the damage by helicopter, Christie had pointed out the “dumpy little house” he’d crammed into with “like, twelve guys”; he also lamented the loss of a favorite sausage-and-pepper stand. At an event in Highlands last month, a local school superintendent turned to Christie and said, “You’ve been here so much, we’re going to make you a volunteer fireman,” which was hyperbole, but not by much. Every time he could, he emphasized the people who were still homeless, the work that remains to be done. “I know how much this means to you,” Christie said a few days later. “It means that much to me.”

Hurricane Sandy, of course, was even more of a political boon to Chris Christie than to President Obama, the two buds who appeared together at the Jersey shore not only in the wake of the hurricane but also the day after Memorial Day "in a drizzly reunion on the Jersey Shore, seven months after Hurricane Sandy punished the famous coastline and united them in an unlikely political partnership "  Christie made the rounds at the site of a natural disaster with President Obama (still relatively popular in N.J.) when the latter needed the Governor's help and Obama returned the favor to the Governor, now facing re-election in a state unfavorably inclined toward most other Republicans.  One good turn deserves another.

With it all, Governor Christie, who with wife Mary Pat is worth approximately $4 million (most of it from her), somehow has built a reputation as 'just another Jersey guy.' Once at Politico but now at The New York Times, Jonathan Martin has an interesting take on a meeting during primary season 2012 in which

Sixty people, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and prominent business executives, sat facing a small table with a phone on it. The phone allowed David Koch, the industrialist and conservative billionaire, and John J. Mack, the former chairman of Morgan Stanley, to call in and encourage his candidacy.

After Mr. Langone announced that the group would raise as much money as Mr. Christie would need, Mr. Kissinger picked up his cane and made his way to the front of the room. (In a previous conversation, Mr. Christie recounts, Mr. Kissinger had told him that he hadn’t “seen a politician connect with someone in a long time” the way Mr. Christie did with people.)

“Your country needs you,” Mr. Kissinger declared, and the room erupted in applause. (Mr. Kissinger declined the author’s request for an interview.)

The account is included in the book, “Collision 2012,” by Dan Balz, a veteran political reporter at The Washington Post, which will not be officially released until next month. Early copies circulating among reporters, politicians and campaign operatives are drawing chatter as much for the account about the Republican who didn’t run as for the one who actually ran and lost, Mitt Romney.

Mr. Balz writes that Mr. Christie “savored every moment of the experience” as he considered the presidential bid, and relies on Mr. Christie to essentially narrate the tale, which the governor, a man of considerable ego, clearly relishes.

The expressions of support from the deep-pocketed Republican bundlers underscore the strengths Mr. Christie would bring if he runs for president in 2016: his ready-made, New York financial base.

But Mr. Christie’s recounting of his role in 2012 also offers a reminder of his high — some would say excessive — self-regard, and why some in Mr. Romney’s campaign were so uneasy about possibly putting him on the Republican ticket last year. It is hardly unusual for a politician to have an outsized ego, but Mr. Christie lacks the masking subtlety possessed by many in his business.

At one point, the governor recalls how he bluntly told Mr. Romney to seek his approval before raising money from donors based in New Jersey. Mr. Christie makes no apologies about protecting his turf as his party’s primary got going.

“So it was a rather tense conversation between the two of us in February of ‘11, and I heard later from others that he left not very happy with the approach I took,” Mr. Christie recalls.

Even when Mr. Christie is attempting self-deprecation, he veers toward false modesty.

Explaining how, in a 2011 trip to Ronald Reagan’s presidential library, Nancy Reagan good-naturedly tried to make him nervous, Mr. Christie recalled the former first lady’s telling him that they had issued more press credentials for the governor than for any other speaker except for George W. Bush and that he’d be using “one of Ronnie’s podiums from the White House.”

“I said, ‘Really?’ She goes, ‘Uh-huh.’ I sat there for a second and I just turned to her and I said, ‘You’re bad, you know that?’ She had this big smile on her face. She knew exactly what she was doing.”

Asked by Mr. Balz if he viewed his ultimate decision to forgo a race as “a gift” to Mr. Romney, Mr. Christie said no, then declared: “The enormous gift was the next week.”

“When I looked puzzled, he reminded me that he had endorsed Romney the following week,” writes Mr. Balz, adding that Mr. Christie said, “I wouldn’t have used the word ‘gift,’ but since you did, it seems to fit, it seems appropriate.”

Mr. Christie then recalled how, the weekend after he had announced he would stay out of the race, he and his wife hosted Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, at their home in New Jersey. Mr. Christie abruptly told Mr. Romney, after two hours of conversation, that he needed no persuading — he was ready to endorse the former Massachusetts governor.

“He got this shocked look on his face and he turned to Ann almost as validation that his ears had worked right, and she had this big smile on her face and she was nodding,” recounted Mr. Christie.

After Mr. Christie said he did not want any favors or campaign titles in return, Mr. Romney turned to his wife and said, “Wow, Christmas in October.”

Turning back to Mr. Christie, Mr. Romney said, “Governor, you don’t know how important and big this is.”

To which Mr. Christie said, “I do.”

Alex Pareene comments

We all already know that in the United States since around just before the Reagan era the top 1 percent of earners have gotten much richer than everyone else, and the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent — people like the sorts of people Christie met at that wonderful party — have done so fantastically well for themselves that even the rest of the 1 percent has reason to feel resentful. Meanwhile life basically sucks for everyone else, with stagnating wages and a hollowing out of the middle class, not to mention the in-progress gutting of the safety net for those never lucky enough to actually join the middle class. And here’s Chris Chris bragging that 60 representatives of the ultra-elite really, really wanted him to be president. This should be an idiotic gaffe, of the sort that ends a man’s political career. Not because these rich people, outside of Kissinger, are specifically awful — most of them give heavily to charity! — but because the entire meeting reveals presidential politics to be as much a fixed affair as any grubby Marxist might imagine. Self-interested plutocrats declared this man to be their preferred candidate! And yet the man is openly sharing this information himself.

An outsize ego, and an outsize regard for Wall Street. Failing a major scandal or coverage by the media of his record as governor, Chris Christie will be re-elected in November. Sometime afterward, he will resign (so as to maintain access to the financial industry he fronts for) and run for the Repub nomination for president, after which he'll remain a serious contender barring a scandal or coverage of his record as governor.

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