Chris Christie, GOP Mercenary
"I am a mercenary in this job," Gov. Chris Christie said last month while campaigning for Republicans in Maryland. "I go to places where we can win."
To that end, Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has visited 37 states to campaign and to raise more than $100 million, the bulk of which is used for TV advertising attacking Democrats. He has campaigned not just for gubernatorial candidates but also those running for Senate and Congress. Sometimes, those candidates are far different from him -- both ideologically and rhetorically. As he puts it, he's a mercenary for the Republican party. What he doesn't say is that this work for such a wide variety of Republicans could give him the support network and street cred he needs to win the GOP presidential nomination.
Here are seven places where Christie has donned his mercenary armor and gone to war this year:
Christie and Iowa Congressman Steve King diverge on both issues and rhetoric. While Christie signed a law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition to attend college in the state, King once famously said this about children who come to the country illegally: “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
At the time Christie called the remark “awful” and “intolerant.” He said he was “shocked” and “disappointed." This is not the only issue where Christie and King have diverged. Christie believes gay people are born gay, and he does not believe homosexuality is a sin -- yet King last month said he doesn't expect to meet gays "should I make it to heaven."
But shortly after that, Christie was back in Iowa, the state with the first Republican presidential caucus, to raise money for King’s reelection at a pheasant hunt. He told reporters that although he doesn’t always agree with King, he appreciates his bluntness. "One of the things that Steve and I share is an absolute commitment to speaking your mind," Christie said. "Speaking your mind is something that people in this country want more of."
In 2011, after he nominated a Muslim to be a judge on county Superior Court, Christie strenuously faced down accusations by conservatives that the judge would implement Muslim Sharia law in New Jersey courts. "This Sharia law business is crap. It’s crazy. And I’m tired of dealing with the crazies," Christie said at the time.
And yet a man whom Christie has repeatedly campaigned for in Colorado, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, has joined those on the right who believe Muslims are indeed bringing Sharia law to the country. Beauprez said that Shariah Law is "creeping" into the American justice system.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is in a tough reelection fight. So last month he brought in Chris Christie, chairman of the Republican Governor Association, for some financial support and star power. On a stage in Hudson, Wisc., Walker trumpeted his campaign promise to institute drug tests for recipients of welfare and unemployment benefits -- as Christie applauded behind him.
The following week, Christie visited a drug rehabilitation center, which he's been doing a lot lately. During these visits, he talks about redemption and avers his support for those struggling with addiction. Christie was asked by reporters if he agrees with drug-testing welfare recipients. "Listen, I’m not going to comment on every issue that another candidate brings up in another state and go through the compare and contrast with all of you," he said. "When I have something to say about it, I will. I don’t."
Christie accepted an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, but Republican Governor Paul LePage in Maine was among those Republican governors who did not. Christie framed this and other issues as one of states' rights: "The beauty about Republican governors and the Republican Governors Association is there isn’t some template that comes from Washington, DC, where to be a good Republican you have to do certain things. The fact is what we expect from our governors is for each of them to do what they think is best for their state. I made the decision that’s best for New Jersey, but we’re very different from Maine."
LePage also may be the only governor in the country who is more of a lightning rod for controversy than Christie. While Christie has criticized President Obama, he didn't tell him to "go to hell," like LePage did. And while LePage told the NAACP to "kiss my butt," Christie spoke at the New Jersey chapter's meeting of the NAACP last month.
When Christie was campaigning in Wisconsin this fall, he trashed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, a Harvard Business School alum, for plagiarizing policy papers: "I don’t think they were teaching plagiarism at Harvard Business School. I don’t think they were taking someone else’s plan and claiming it as your own."
But later in Connecticut, reporters asked why he was campaigning for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in that state, Tom Foley, who was also also accused of plagiarizing campaign materials.
"If you look at the details they are significantly different. I stand by the differences," Christie said.
A reporter pressed, but Christie stood firm. "I’m not here to detail the differences. I stand by the comments I made in Wisconsin."
Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback has been called a real-life experiment in tea party governance. In fact, Brownback himself described it that way. He eliminated the top income tax bracket, ended taxes on certain business income, implemented new welfare and food stamp requirements, rejected Medicaid funds and cut money for education.
The policies, even in this red state, proved to have gone too far, according to political analysts. He is losing his bid for reelection, and Christie has repeatedly traveled to Kansas to help him. And yet ideologically, it is hard to see similarities between Brownback and the New Jersey governor, who has made his name by compromising with Democrats and pursuing fiscal policies that are considered right of center. Christie has lowered business taxes and proposed an income tax cut, but he has not aggressively sought to end the safety net for the poor nor radically alter the tax structure. And after initial cutbacks, Christie actually increased money for public schools.
On Friday, Christie campaigned for Republican candidates in Arkansas, including Congressman Tom Cotton, a candidate for Senate. Less than two years ago Cotton was among the conservative House Republicans who drew Christie's ire for voting against federal aid for New Jersey and other states affected by Sandy.
After an initial vote on Sandy aid was delayed because of House Republicans, Christie slammed Cotton and the Republican leadership in Congress. "There’s only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner," Christie at the time. He said that representatives "failed that most basic test of public service, and they did so with callous indifference to the suffering of the people of my state."