Chris Christie's Giuliani Problem
It's a big day for Chris Christie, with a New York magazine profile hitting shelves and Quinnipiac University identifying him as the "hottest" politician in American. Exactly like Rudy Giuliani in the lead-up to the 2008 Republican primaries.
Big day for Chris Christie, with a New York magazine profile hitting shelves and Quinnipiac University identifying him as the "hottest" politician in American. If history is any guide, that combination means that he will finish tied for last among Republican presidential candidates in 2016. Because once upon a time, Rudy Giuliani had his own New York profile and led in the same poll.
Quinnipiac University has been regularly conducting a "thermometer" poll, which, unlike a regular poll, asks voters to give a number between 0 and 100 to represent how they feel about a candidate. The researchers then calculates the mean "temperature" for the candidate and ranks them. The most recent ranking names Christie the "hottest" politician in America:
In 2006, Quinnipiac's poll looked like this, previewing the 2008 race.
With the exception of Giuliani, pretty much on the money. But you can't really just call the front-runner an exception.
The potential problem for Christie is that leading in this poll is hardly the only way in which he compares to 2008's most spectacular flame-out.
Both Christie and Giuliani are tough-talking former prosecutors. When that 2006 Quinnipiac poll came out, Christie was still working with the Department of Justice, acting as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. Giuliani made his bones the same way, representing Southern New York in that position during the Reagan Administration. Both men ran on that background when first seeking higher office. And, of course, both take advantage of the tough-guy perception that follows from it.
Both are from the same region. And both take advantage of the tough-guy perception that follows from it. Christie's New York profile summarizes his sales pitch. "With characteristic humility," it suggests, presumably tongue-in-cheek, "Christie has spent his summer on the campaign trail offering himself, and his state, as a national ideal." Christie is from Jersey; Giuliani, from Brooklyn. It's integral to their schtick: tough guys from blue-collar neighborhoods that are gonna give it to you straight.
Related to that: Both remember 9/11. While the disaster in which Christie cooly and tirelessly handled was Hurricane Sandy, he's not particularly abashed about using the 9/11 card. During his recent tiff with libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, Christie demanded Paul tell 9/11 victims why the senator supported restrictions on NSA surveillance. (Paul seemed more than willing to meet that challenge.)
Giuliani, of course, is famous for his 9/11-remembrance campaign platform. In 2007, he got his own cover story in New York.
On most issues, his spiel doesn't sound that different from those of McCain and Romney. But there's one exception. Over and over again, wherever he goes, America's Mayor evokes 9/11. And over and over again, wherever he goes, people cheer. Whenever Rudy talks about anything other than the September 11 terror attacks, he's just another Republican presidential hopeful with his particular set of strengths and weaknesses. When he talks about 9/11, he becomes something else: a national hero.
Both have the same pre-election pitch. It's not only toughness and 9/11 associations that are why the region that birthed each candidate is so important. It also lets them play another card: they're Republicans that have been elected by heavily Democratic voters.
That perception of a candidate that will work across party lines to get things done is precisely why pundits who drool over Mike Bloomberg and other "centrists" get excited about a Christie candidacy. Until he officially declared that he wasn't running in the 2012 race (after several thousand previous unofficial denials), calls for Christie to jump in were incessant. Some conservatives were convinced that Christie could lure wavering blue states into the Republican column, which was the same pitch Giuliani offered. The Republicans could win New York / New Jersey!
How viable is that argument in Christie's case? According to that Quinnipiac poll, Christie's campaign to woo independents is going well. He's the most popular politician from either party among independents, although barely; his "temperature" is 50.6 to Texas Senator Ted Cruz's 50.4. (Although far fewer people have any opinion on Cruz.)
Christie's problem is with Republican voters. Among Republican respondents, Christie drops to eighth — behind Rep. Paul Ryan, Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisonsin governor Scott Walker. He even trails 2012 also-ran Rick Santorum.
This was Giuliani's problem, too. As a national candidate, Giuliani peaked too early and was never able to position himself as sufficiently conservative to win a single primary. (He also ran a spectacularly terrible campaign, we'll add.) Giuliani, the Northeastern Republican that might woo Democratic states to the Republican ticket — Reagan reborn — wasn't able to get enough Republicans to support his candidacy for his campaign last until February 2008.
Christie is already walking that path. During his bid for reelection as governor, Chris Christie is trumpeting a WNYC story which hails "ChristieCrats," Democrats that support Christie's policies and his reelection. That's probably more than Giuliani — who was far less popular in New York at this point in his 2008 bid than Christie is in his 2016 one — could ever have expected. But it doesn't solve a key problem: Republican primary voters in 2016 probably won't want a candidate that's loved by Democrats.
A tough-talking former prosecutor who prides himself on winning across party lines and is inextricably linked with the New York region that gave rise to his career? Sounds unbeatable and irresistible to New York-based centrist punditry. Unfortunately, very few Republican primary voters fall into that category.