Why Isn't the GOP Learning From Chris Christie?

Union-bashing is in--just as Republicans soften on the issue

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Daunted by the bitter budget battle in Wisconsin, GOP leaders in "several states" are softening their positions on public employee unions, reports the Associated Press. In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) implored GOP legislators to abandon a "right to work" bill. In Ohio, GOP senate leaders have watered down a bill prohibiting collective bargaining rights for public employees. Michigan's and Florida's GOP governors have agreed to take a "conciliatory approach" to union groups.

The question that should come to mind for Republican strategists is why now?

Whether one considers the fight against public unions an example of malicious Republican scapegoating or genuine budgetary problem-solving is beside the point. Politically, there's a strong argument to make that union-bashing has never been a more popular issue. In his cover story in The New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai makes precisely that argument in his assessment of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's recent successes:

Not only are public employees' contracts no longer untouchable for any politician who wants to stay in office, but it turns out that the opposite is true; taking the fight to the unions is a good way to bolster your credentials as a gutsy reformer with voters who have been losing faith for years in public schools and government bureaucracies. This, more than anything else, is the lesson that Chris Christie has impressed on his contemporaries.

While Christie's anti-union crusade may seem like a party unifier, it apparently isn't as transportable from state to state. Either that or the rising GOP star isn't quite as influential as the press is making him out to be.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.