The limits of tone and style

Rumors about half-term New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) interest in the presidential race intensified this morning, with a credible report from the Newark Star-Ledger that he’s “seriously rethinking” his intentions.

While we wait to see if Christie is prepared to abandon his unambiguous, iron-clad denials, this Wall Street Journal item struck me as interesting.

The Christie boom is being fueled by dissatisfaction with the party’s current roster of candidates by some in the GOP. But because of his largely unexamined policy positions, Christie watchers in New Jersey predict the governor might not end that soul-searching if he decides to run.

“Conservatives are enthused,” said Patrick Murray, chief pollster at New Jersey’s Monmouth University. “But when they get to know him, they might not feel quite so enthusiastic.”

Christie backers, such as billionaire John Catsimatidis, argue the governor’s core appeal lies in his character and style, and less so in his individual positions. [emphasis added]

Hmm. Far-right Republican primary voters are, apparently, expected to overlook what Christie actually believes, and will support the half-term governor because they’ll like his tone.

Am I the only one who sees a flaw in this approach?

If recent campaign developments have proven anything, it’s that candidates’ positions on key issues matter quite a bit to the GOP base. The right was awfully impressed with Rick Perry’s tone, too, right up until they learned he supports giving tuition breaks to the kids of undocumented immigrants.

And when it comes to breaking with Republican orthodoxy, Christie’s record would pose enormous problems for party voters. We’re talking about a potential candidate who has supported gun control laws, believes in climate science, and doesn’t think it’s illegal to be an undocumented immigrant. Christie balked when invited to file suit against the Affordable Care Act, he doesn’t hate Muslims, and he endorsed a deficit-reduction plan that raises some taxes.

Christie’s cheerleaders think his “style” will render all of these positions irrelevant. Rudy Giuliani thought the same thing four years ago.

This is, of course, the underlying flaw in the incessant search in Republican circles for saviors. Activists and donors aren’t satisfied with the current field, so they search for a white knight to rescue them. Then the party gets a closer look at the knight, notices imperfections, and looks for another.

I have no idea if Christie will break his word and launch a campaign. I suspect, though, that if he does jump in, the search for yet another savior will continue.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.