Christie Our Savior
Why this week's Republican messiah is no better than last week's.
The man who can save the Republican Party "stands in opposition to inside-the-Beltway Washington elites," says Rush Limbaugh. The savior's "style is very engaging,"according to Stanley Kurtz. "At times, he seems to act out virtually every word he speaks with his body." A magazine in the savior's home state calls him "the kind of politician who would rather be feared than loved—or respected."
Hang on, my mistake. I set out to write about Chris Christie, the new Republican messiah, but in my haste I accidentally started quoting punditry about Rick Perry, the old Republican messiah. (Many thanks to Conor Friedersdorf for rounding up so many articles from the musty genre of Perry-worship.) No, no: Christie is completely different! If he gets in, it'll be like the Beatles disembarking from a plane into a crowd of frenzied schoolgirls. Faced with his straight talk, the other Republican candidates may just up and quit and see if Fox News has any open slots for contributors.
Christie's address on "American exceptionalism" at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Tuesday only adds to the buzz. Christie's circle has tamped down on it, confirming for the umpteenth time that he does not plan to run for president. You can find this news in a Politico article that shares online space with a "2012 Presidential Election Calendar." Still on the calendar: "Chris Christie Speaking at an Ann Wagner for Congress Finance Event" and "Chris Christie Speaking at a New Jersey Republican Party Finance Event."
Here's another item to add to the calendar, every day for the foreseeable future: Chris Christie Unable To Stop Republicans From Floating Him as Dream Candidate. Eleven months from now, he will be answering questions about Republican National Convention delegates who want to dump their candidate and install him. There is no stopping Bill Kristol from running at you with a crown and an inspirational poem, as Paul Ryan has learned.
As we endure this, remember two things. One: The Republican field is offering most of what Christie offers, even if a bored press corps has run out of ways to cover it. Two: Christie's reputation as a speaker, once underrated, is now overrated.
To be fair to the pundits, a lot of the overrating has come from Christie himself. His constant aw-shucks-ing of the presidential hype has taken on a too-satisfied tone. "I think what the country is thirsting for," he said this weekend, "more than anything else right now, is someone of stature and credibility to tell them that and say, 'Here's where I want us to go to deal with this crisis.' The fact that nobody yet who's running for president, in my view, has done that effectively is why you continue to hear people ask [Indiana Gov. Mitch] Daniels if he'll reconsider and ask me if I'll reconsider."
But the current Republican candidates have been talking about this stuff. It's hard to say if they've been "effective," what with Christie's YouTube oeuvre to compare themselves to, but they've been doing it. Perry has stumbled over his words (which is why there's a Christie boomlet, again), but Perry has written a federalist manifesto in which he recommends decentralizing Social Security and shrinking Medicare. "I would suggest that any Republican who is not going to work toward finding a solution to the budgetary problems that we have in this country ought to just go home," he's said. Mitt Romney has endorsed the Paul Ryan budget, as has Jon Huntsman. Both of them have had to walk a gauntlet of stupid ideological pledges, which nonetheless means they've had to make more tough calls about national issues than the dream candidate has.
On policy and our national crises, the current contenders are no more airy than Christie himself. On immigration, he's arguably to the left of Perry—he even calls illegal immigration an "administrative manner," not a "crime." His rep as an unparalleled teller of truths grows out of a February 2011 speech he gave at the American Enterprise Institute.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images.