“In formulating my policies, I tried to strike a moderate balance. Inevitably I dissatisfied the people on both extremes…So let’s just tackle the problems instead of talking about them. We will be judged by what we do rather than what we say on this issue.” –RN, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon
“The lesson is to govern and to show up. Let me explain what I mean. On governing, it’s about doing things, accomplishing things, reaching across the aisle and crafting accomplishments.” –Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie
Governor Chris Christie’s commanding second term election victory in New Jersey, a blue state, has media and the public tagging him as the GOP’s presidential favorite in 2016. Christie’s public espousal of government action and criticism for petty partisanship has led to his success in the garden state. With his face graced on the cover of Time Magazine, pundits are now calling him Mr. Pragmatic, and the savior of the GOP. Is he the next Richard Nixon?
Why the comparisons with President Nixon? Nixon, a conservative at heart but a man who understood the importance of progressive policies, would most certainly have been considered too activist for the modern Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—an annual political conference that evaluates popular candidates for the presidency. CPAC declined to invite Governor Christie to their 2013 conference.
Christie’s public praise of President Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy and his public reproach of House Speaker John Boehner as well as Congressional Republicans over inaction for a Sandy Relief bill has fellow party members doubting—even shunning—his conservatism. Likewise, the Governor’s popularized words have overshadowed his successful conservative record.
Contrary to public perception, Christie has developed a hard strung conservative line in his left-leaning state. He has vetoed legislation to hike taxes on millionaires; he has successfully capped property taxes; he has attacked tenure policies for incompetent public teachers; and he has successfully reformed his state’s employee pension system. In all, he has made his state fiscally sound and administratively more effective. Yet he is plugged by the conservative base as a liberal-leaner.
In response, it appears Governor Christie is taking a stance against far-right hardline conservative wing Republicans, so a comparison to President Nixon may fall short in this sense. President Nixon fought determinably for the Republican Party, often referred to as the horse for the GOP during campaign seasons. In 1964, he famously defended the RNC’s selection of Barry Goldwater as its presidential nominee, not because he believed the man to be astoundingly capable, but because he believed in party unity and a united front to challenge the political landscape. Will Governor Christie do the same if he declares his candidacy?
If he does, fortunately, and much like President Nixon, Governor Christie has cover from extremist elements. His successful battle against the New Jersey Education Association over teacher tenure policies and a $100 million increase in school funding provides ample conservative cover, just as President Nixon’s successful interrogation of Alger Hiss provided cover against allegations he was soft on communism for engaging China and the USSR. It will be hard to deny Christie presidential prominence simply by chiding his remarks in favor of President Obama.
During his presidency, Nixon was hardly pulled to the left by a Democratic Congress—rather, he held them accountable for inefficiency and inaction. His overarching goal for domestic policy as President was to consolidate agencies, weed out inefficiencies, and draw a hard line regarding law and order—all conservative values. Governor Christie has comparatively not been pulled by a left-leaning state—his record speaks for itself.
Christie comes off as a conservative populist, but is able to unite the intrinsic values of his blue-collar New Jerseyans. This is the reason why he is a Republican favorite to ride the ticket, because he can accomplish in the face of idealistic differences.
The New Jersey arena stands in stark contrast to the national political arena. Whereas most of President Nixon’s political career revolved around the national stage, Governor Christie has only engaged in state affairs. He has yet to test the waters of in-party opposition and will face an uphill battle to bind the factions of the GOP under his wing.