Those sophisticates at Time magazine made a funny. They put Chris Christie on their cover with the headline, “The Elephant in the Room.” Get it? Elephant. Christie. Time magazine did a junior high fat joke right there on its cover. Time's executive editor Michael Duffy explained the cheap shot this way: “Well, he’s obviously a big guy. He’s obviously a big Republican. But he’s also done a really huge thing here this week.”
The “huge thing” wasn’t only winning re-election as New Jersey’s governor, but doing it by appealing to a broad range of voters in a very blue state – not just to his conservative base.
But, hey, no harm no foul. Time isn't even a newsmagazine anymore. It became a liberal journal of opinion a long time ago. So you can just hear those wild and crazy journalists at Time sitting around the conference room table giggling about how they’d get away with their fat joke because, well, in the world of politics, the word "elephant" isn't a synonym with "fatso."
But do you think the gang at Time would ever say Barack Obama is a “dark horse.” In the world of politics "dark" doesn't mean "black," right?
Time’s cover doesn’t necessarily mean that Chris Christie is the GOP frontrunner for 2016. It’s way too early for that. But it does help make him the flavor of the month. He was also on all the Sunday TV talk shows this week. You don’t get to do that unless you’re the flavor of the month, or at least of the week.
Besides, he’s a favorite of liberal journalists, not only because he’s got a big mouth which makes for some interesting quotes, but also because he’s not the most conservative Republican out there. For the same reasons they despise Ted Cruz, they adore Chris Christie. For now.
But if he becomes a serious threat to one of their all-time favs, Hillary Clinton, the so-called mainstream media will turn on Christie with a vengeance. They hated Goldwater and Reagan while they were alive, painting them as crazy right-wing ideologues. When they were dead, they became good conservatives – to contrast them with every other conservative who was still breathing.
It’s a good bet Christie will run. And if he does, he’s charismatic enough to cause the Democrats some sleepless nights. But Christie’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness.
Christie can win in a deep blue state like New Jersey because he’s not a hard right Tea Party type. That means he can win the support of women and minorities – crucial to winning a nationwide election. But the hard right sees him as the latest incarnation of John McCain and Mitt Romney – two moderates who lost.
Chris Christie can attract moderates and independents that would give him a shot in swing states that Republicans must win to take the White House. He could win Florida and Ohio and North Carolina and Colorado and New Hampshire, and maybe even Iowa and New Mexico. But he might not be able to win his party’s nomination because it’s conservatives who make up the majority of primary voters, and they – at least as of now – don’t want a Chris Christie. They want a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul or some other candidate who can’t win a national election despite what they think.
What the hard right needs to understand is that if they really want change, first they have to win elections. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s one of those obvious facts the Tea Party never seemed able to grasp. They picked a bad candidate in Nevada a few years back when a good candidate might have defeated Harry Reid. And they picked a candidate in Delaware who had to go on TV and tell everyone that she’s not a witch. She also lost. And there have been other Tea Party favorites who appealed to the hard right base, but because that's never enough, they also lost.
The Tea Party folks are very proud of the fact that they stand on principle. Bulletin: so do less hardline Republicans. But the hard right calls everyone to the left of Ted Cruz a RINO, a Republican in name only. The Tea Party won't like this, but the real RINOs are the Tea Party people. They’ve been very clear that their allegiance is to pure conservatism, not to the Republican Party. Yes, my right wing friends, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and the others on the far right are the real RINOs.
Because I want Republicans to win, let me offer two pieces of advice. The first to Chris Christie:
Don’t pick a fight with your own base, the conservatives who at the moment don’t really like you. As Ross Douthat puts in his New York Times column: “As a would-be nominee, you have to woo base voters, not run against them, and make them feel respected even when they disagree with you. This doesn’t mean muzzling yourself, or pandering to every right-wing interest group. But it means persuading conservatives that you like them, that you understand them and that as president you’re going to be (mostly) on their side.”
In other words, fight the temptation to go along with liberal journalists who believe the GOP is a party of right-wing morons. Don't get drawn in by their phony admiration for you.
The second piece of advice is for the Tea Party and other purists on the right. If it looks like Chris Christie can win, jump on his bandwagon. Give him your support. And do you best to be passionate about it. If you don’t, you’ll have up to eight years of Mrs. Clinton. No matter how you feel about Christie, he’s a lot better than another liberal Democrat, right?
The answer to that last question is obviously yes. But true believers sometimes don’t think rationally. I’m cautiously optimistic that Chris Christie could win in 2016 (although cautiously hopeful may come closer to my real feelings). But I’m pessimistic about his chances of winning the support of his own party. Fundamentalists – political, religious or any other kind – don’t like to bend. Sometimes I think they’d rather lose than compromise. Rush Limbaugh, after all, can barely get the word “compromise” out of his mouth without gagging. To him, compromise is caving in. He’s a lot like Barrack Obama in that respect.
And so the real elephants in the room are those purist conservatives who will have to decide how badly they want to win. It’s still early, but I fear too many of them would rather lose with Ted Cruz than win with Chris Christie.