A New York GOP State of Mind

As a follow-on to my TPMCafe column on Chris Christie, Josh Marshall offered a meditation on why pols like Christie and Rudy Giuliani are consistently overrated as presidential candidates. He figures it’s another example of the Gotham media lens:

Christie comes from a pretty blue state. He is characterologically very much a product of the tri-state area, where a very brash and aggressive personal style is de rigueur, especially for Republican politicians. By national standards he is only just on the cusp of RINO status. To many, indeed, he’s the ultimate RINO….

Christie is quite simply a creature of New Jersey and tri-state politics who both by his manner and his policies would be a tough sell – certainly a tough primary campaign sell – in the red states where presidential candidates are chosen. Add to this that the reason he became extremely popular in New Jersey for a while – Hurricane Sandy – is also what basically sank him in national Republican politics – because of his literal and figurative embrace of President Obama.

But the real issue here, I think, is the extremely distorting lens of the New York media world and the very particular breed of people who make up tri-state Republicanism, particularly how the two interweave with each other. Media-prominent, big time New York and New Jersey Republicans tend to be very well-off and very conservative. But they are usually not terribly focused on the evangelicalism-tinged social issues that drive Republican party identification in its heartlands. They also have very little experience getting Republicans elected where they live. It happens certainly. The GOP dominated the New York mayoralty for a generation – though in an increasingly nominal way under Mike Bloomberg.

What these Republicans prize is law and order politics and politicians who can stand up to and knock around the entrenched Democrats and liberal political norms they see all around them. When I say law and order, I mean not just tough policing and long jail terms but the general no nonsense, not putting up with pussy-footing and complaining and indulgent labor contracts and all the rest. That applies to law and order and cracking down on the thugs, teachers unions and Islamofascist bad guys abroad – all of whom they tend to see in a somewhat similar light. They are much more anti-liberal – in the sense of big city urban liberal politics writ large – than conservative, per se. And this all explains why Rudy Giuliani – dubbed “America’s Mayor” by a handful of media yakkers and Republican backers in New York City – was the ultimate avatar of this particular tri-state, not-gonna-take-any-more-BS breed of Republicanism.

And how did he do when he ran for President? Of course, he comically crashed and burned and barely made it to the first primary.

Now Christie wasn’t pro-choice or pro-gay rights like Rudy, and thus wasn’t kind of preposterous as a presidential candidate to begin with. But I’d say the embrace of Obama during Sandy and the acceptance of a Medicaid expansion–along with preexisting sins on gun policy and Islamophobia–pretty much did him in. And for the most part, rank-and-file GOPers from places with higher ethical sensitivities than New Jersey weren’t real thrilled with Bridgegate, either.

But Josh’s essay is a good reminder that for all the Coastal Elite-bashing we hear from conservatives, a lot of these birds live and work in New York:

Fox is based out of New York City. Limbaugh originally broadcast out of New York City when he first went national and the show’s staff is still based there. The New York Post, which is a major driver of national media coverage, is in New York City. The National Review is based in New York City. And let’s not forget that a huge, huge amount of the money that drives Republican politics (similar but not quite the same with Dems) comes out of New York City.

It’s just not where the voters come from.

Let’s remember this next time a Republican savior comes riding out of the tri-state area.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.