I like Chris Christie.
There, I said it. Chris Christie, the overweight, much-maligned and confrontational anti-union governor of New Jersey actually seems to be a good guy committed to the best interests of his state. And even though I’ll almost surely vote for President Barack Obama in 2012, I’m still disappointed Christie isn’t running for president.
Christie announced last week that he will not seek the Republican Party’s nomination to challenge Obama next year. His announcement, I believe, will lead to the downfall of the Republican Party at the polls next November and likely shut Christie out of a bid for president in 2016.
Throughout his relatively short tenure as governor, Christie has taken a hard line against public sector unions, just like our own Gov. Scott Walker. But unlike Walker, whose incoherent reasoning and radical hard-line politics led to the mass protests in Madison in February and March, Christie partnered with Democrats and did not completely, permanently abolish collective bargaining rights for public employees. Also in contrast to Walker, who inappropriately has painted his ubiquitous slogan “Wisconsin is open for business” on official state welcome signs and website, Christie has held his position with relative humility.
Many new Republican governors like Walker and Florida’s Rick Scott are also known for their aversion to any media probing or questioning, holding highly restricted events and rarely allowing any sort of public input. But Christie, again bucking the Republican party’s recent trends, regularly holds town hall meetings, which have made him famous across the country for his direct answers to questions from public employees concerned about Christie’s anti-union politics.
“I am sorry that I’m the guy who has to be here when the party’s over,” Christie said at a town hall meeting early this year. “I understand why you’re frustrated and I understand why you’re angry about it … but this is the truth and I don’t get anything for telling the truth.”
I vehemently oppose both Walker and Christie’s agendas. But at least Christie seems to have some sympathy for the position in which public employees find themselves. To paint all Republicans as the ideological and political equivalent of Walker would be ignoring the deft rhetorical skills of folks like Christie, who rival Obama in their ability to influence audiences.
Republicans politicians are easy for liberals to demonize. Walker has smarmy qualities, leading to a litany of offensive signs at this year’s protests. Mitt Romney appears to be a walking wax figure example of an oligarch, and an image of Rick Perry waywardly shooting a handgun has, for many become the defining stereotype of the conservative Texan.
But Christie is a different kind of Republican. He may speak with the same confrontational tone as Bill O’Reilly, but so do millions of his fellow Northeasterners. And despite his similarities to Walker and this year’s presidential candidates, he possesses a crucial personal quality Walker does not: cold, harsh, brutal honesty.
This quality would have been especially beneficial in debates with Obama. Christie would have adequately challenged Obama, creating a mostly civil and constructive national conversation about the role government should play in the economy. He also has consistently decried anti-Muslim and xenophobic rhetoric in his own party, making him one of the only candidates who could diffuse the incessant “Obama is a Marxist Muslim!” claims. Put simply, a Christie candidacy would have killed the virulent Tea Party movement and pitted a center-right candidate against a center-left candidate. That’s how American presidential races should work.
Maybe Christie just has some sort of personality trait that only makes him appealing to me personally. But in a political era that will undoubtedly become known for unprecedented partisan division, Christie should be proof to liberals that despite their disappointing and divisive policies, most Republicans aren’t evil, power-hungry monsters. In some cases, they’re just like our next door neighbors. Regardless of if he deserves my vote or not, I am disappointed he won’t run for president.
Ryan Rainey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in journalism and Latin American studies.