Every elected official wants to be popular like Chris Christie. First, they need to understand how he got so popular.
Here’s the key: conservatives trust him not to waste their money, and moderates trust him not to break the government. That’s a synthesis that eludes almost all other Republican officials.
Christie’s appeal is not really about being a “moderate.” 96 per cent of New Jersey Republicans approve of the job Christie’s doing, according to this month’s Quinnipiac poll.
Whatever base problems Christie might have nationally, he doesn’t have any in his home state.
But he also gets approval from 78 per cent of independents and 41 per cent of Democrats. He’s even gotten a lot of Democratic municipal officials to endorse him for re-election, while many others (including Newark Mayor Cory Booker) have entered into clear non-aggression pacts.
On Sunday, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Katz looked into how Christie has built such good relationships with local Democratic officials. And a lot of what appeals to those Democrats is the same as what appeals to New Jersey Republicans.
Katz’s great piece starts with a list of five reasons for Christie’s success, but #2 and #4 are especially important for national Republicans to pay attention to, because they combine a willingness to spend money with an insistence that it be spent wisely.
In Katz’s words, here are the keys to Christie’s success.
- Christie has cultivated close relationships with certain key Democrats through personal contact (texts, calls, meals) and, in some cases, has even refused to criticise their transgressions.
- He has millions of state tax dollars at his discretion, and pro-Christie Democrats have cited his generosity to their local governments as reason for their support.
- Politicians like winners, and Christie leads State Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex) by more than 30 points in the polls. A Rutgers Eagleton poll shows eight in 10 Democrats believe Christie will win in November.
- Many of the most powerful Democrats allied with Christie are fiscal conservatives who agree with him on education and union issues and are at odds on those issues with their own standard-bearer.
- Polls and interviews with Democrats indicate Christie has irresistible personal charms, including a sense of humour, tough-guy leadership style, and willingness to do the unexpected, like praise President Obama during Sandy.
Christie has been governor in lean times and he’s had to cut a lot of things, including local aid. He’s managed to do so in a way that’s widely seen as fair by municipal officials. And he’s made sometimes-surprising choices for a Republican, like sharply cutting property tax rebates (which mostly goes to Republican-leaning suburbs) and using a progressive formula to cut aid less sharply to the poorest municipalities.
At the same time, he’s implemented accountability and cost-control measures. He reformed the state’s program of “transitional” aid to the most distressed cities in a way that increases transparency and punishes corrupt administrations. He’s given cities and counties a freer hand to control employee health care and pension costs. And he’s capped the growth of property taxes, forcing cities to find ways to control spending growth.
That is, he’s willing to send the money where it’s most needed, so long as it’s spent wisely.
This agenda has its detractors. Public employee unions hate it, and his effort to cut the cost of public employee benefits is why he spent much of his first year as governor fighting with them. A minority of suburban Republicans are upset too; Steve Lonegan, now the Republican nominee for Senate, attacked Christie’s budget proposal from 2010 as “a massive suburban property tax hike” that favoured the cities too much.
But Christie has pleased way more constituencies than he’s alienated.
As Katz notes, a lot of Democratic municipal officials aren’t aligned with public employee unions, and they like the added fiscal freedom Christie has given them. Republicans like that Christie has opposed the unions and made government less wasteful; as such, they’ll forgive the fiscal transfers toward the cities.
Christie’s fiscal record isn’t perfect. He’s gotten the state involved in some troubled real estate projects that he should have just allowed to fail. He should be pushing for an alternative to the overly-expensive Hudson River rail tunnel project he canceled. And he should fund the state’s pension system better, though he’s been moving in that direction in his recent budgets.
But his overall record is good because it’s built on scepticism, not cynicism, about government spending. If other Republicans started copying that approach, they might start copying his broad popularity, too.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.