Author: Rory B. Bellows
I have seen some pundits try to say the New Jersey Republican Gunernatorial primary is a referendum on the future of the GOP. Will the party go with the putist in Lonegan or the more moderate and electable Christie.
That isn’t how this primary campaign has played out. Christie is not running to redefine Republicanism. Steve Lonegan is most surely running a contrast campaign. He is a real conservative and is making this about the establishment versuses the grass roots. Christie is not saying this is a contest between moderate Republicanism and conservative Republicanism. Hell, I just a commercial for Chrisitie and the tag line was “conservative leadership for New Jersey”. It did not say “common sense leadership for New Jersey” or “practical leadership for New Jersey”. Maybe those will come in a general election but if Christie wanted to change the core principles of the Republican Party, whatever those are these days, he would have used them in the primary campaign.
If anything, Christie’s rhetoric has moved rightward as the primary has gone on. He is not a John Huntsman who is out there saying the party needs to change positions on key issues and needs to evolve into something else if it is to win in the northeast, or anywhere else for that matter. Now I have some doubts about Christie. Maybe he is lying to us and he really is pro-gun control. Maybe he deep down he isn’t against the Abbot School policy and COAH that have combined to act as the biggest version of legalized theft in state history. Maybe he is just another Chrisitie Todd Whitman type who is not going to win over any Democrats and annoy conservatives. Maybe. But he isn’t embracing this contrast with Lonegan to sell a “reoriented” version of the Republican Party.
What worries me about Chrisitie is when he talks about being a “common sense” conservative. Conservatism does not require a modifyer. We all saw how that worked about with “compassionate” conservatism. But that is neither here nor there. A recent Quinnipiac Poll showed Christie with a massive 23 point lead over Lonegan.
Maybe Chrisitie has opened this massive lead because he has his base of moderate/liberal Republicans pinned down but he needed to inch his rhetoric rightward to peel off enough conservatives. That has probably happened, but since this campaign began Christie has never made this about redefining the Republican party or moving the party in a new direction or adopting new policies. Some might argue this is because Christie represents the establishment GOP here in New Jersey. That could very well be the case and I will not try and fight you on that front.
Sorry if this post is long and rambling, but the bottom line, as I see it, is that I do not see Chris Christie following the Colin Powell or John Hunstman line of thought that the GOP needs to change course radically in order to win. I am sure I will find little to applaud and much to criticize with a Christie Administration and I am going to vote for Lonegan in the primary, but it is not out of animus towards a candidate trying to “moderate” the Republican Party, it is because I am supporting a candidate who I believe is the stronger conservative.