Centrists — adherents to the poorly defined combination of petulance toward partisan politics, social liberalism, and insistent capitalism — are, given their positions of prominence in business and the media, oddly insecure. From those prominent positions on Tuesday came analysis of the night's election results: America loves centrism.
Take New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie was reelected by an overwhelming margin. Christie is a centrist, per centrists. He's earned that status in two ways. First, he is not a far-right Tea Partier, as we've noted in the past (as though that required much noting). Second, he's willing to "work across the aisle" with Democrats. Never mind that Christie himself told CNN's Jake Tapper that "I'm a conservative. I've governed as a conservative in this state, and I think that's led to some people disagreeing with me." That's just him running for president, the centrists will argue. He is one of us.
That quote came from Tapper's embed with the governor on Election Day, a level of access, Tapper proudly told Capital New York, that he hasn't seen since he toured with John McCain on the "Straight Talk Express" in 2000. McCain, of course, is also claimed by centrists. Centrist politicians, unlike partisan Democrats and Republicans, give it to you straight. That's how you can spot a centrist politician: They won't tell you what you want to hear, they tell you the hard truths in plain terms. (Except when they say they're conservative; that's just political realism.)
So a victory by Christie is a victory for centrists. "Message to Republicans:," The Washington Post's Carter Eskew writes, "Moderates Win."
[W]hile Chris Christie may be checking leases tonight on charter flights to Iowa and New Hampshire, his plain-speaking moderation will likely sound dissonant to those who still control the party’s energy and direction for the foreseeable future.
"Plain-speaking moderation" triumphs over the Republican base — on Tuesday, anyway.
Eskew also argues that Terry McAuliffe's win in Virginia was a victory for moderation, since the hard-right Ken Cuccinelli lost. The Post editorial board at large echoes this suggestion. McAuliffe won in part, the board says, because his campaign and the Democratic Party spent more and because his opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, was the wrong candidate for "a moderate swing state." But at its heart, "credit Mr. McAuliffe with crafting the right message." Their headline: "Terry McAuliffe's moderate message prevails."
Moderate Democrats, though, are never as celebrated as centrist Republicans, in part because prominent centrists themselves are generally just moderate Democrats, and in part because Republicans are harder to lure toward the middle. (Those two things are linked.) So Christie is really the success story of Tuesday for centrists, perhaps giving us a centrist president in 2016, after the long dry spell we've seen since the Obama, Clinton, and George H. W. Bush administrations.
After Christie's acceptance speech, CNN's panel (true to CNN's nature) was effusive.
Candy Crowley: If there's one thing you can say that both Chris Christie and Terry McAuliffe had in common in their campaigns it was selling themselves as "I'm the guy that can work with the other party and get things done for you."
Gloria Borger: The irony in this year is that the two people who won are the two people who kind of tried to run to the center the fastest. And they were victorious.
The Republicans on the panel — Newt Gingrich and consultant Alex Castellanos — pushed back a little, but the message was clear. Last night, Republicans lost. Centrists won.
Jon Avlon, at The Daily Beast:
On Tuesday night, Christie went a long way toward establishing himself as the Republican Bill Clinton, a charismatic candidate able to re-center his party and reach out beyond the base even in traditionally hostile territory. Hard-core conservatives might call him a RINO—a Republican in Name Only—but there’s another name for it. A winner.
Photo: Christie, left, and McAuliffe. (AP)