Last week, New Jersey voters reelected Chris Christie to his second term by an impressive 21-point margin—60 percent to Democrat Barbara Buono’s 39. Part of that had to do with the $11.5 million Christie’s camp spent on radio and TV ads through Election Day, part with the amounts that his challenger did not spend; with the bulk of the Democrats’ resources last week directed at the McAuliffe-Cuccinelli gubernatorial race in Virginia, Buono managed to scrape together a comparatively low $2.1 million.
Part of it may even have had to do with Christie’s shrewd scheduling. Last month’s special U.S. Senate election could have been held last week to correspond with the general election, but Christie purposefully scheduled the race for an odd Wednesday in the middle of October—which cost his state an additional $12–24 million to implement—so that he wouldn’t have to run on the same day as Democrat Cory Booker, perhaps the only New Jersey politician whose popularity may outshine Christie’s own.
But a lot—heck, probably most—of the New Jersey governor’s reelection really had to do with his popularity and his patently “moderate” image. He’s not like other Republicans, voters and the media seem to think: He knows how to compromise, and how to work with leaders on both sides of the aisle to get things done—and that, apparently, makes him a moderate.
Except…kind of, maybe, sometimes. But not really. Not in any meaningful way, and not where it matters most.
Let’s start with the good: It’s true that, as governor of New Jersey, Christie has learned to work with left- and right-leaning lawmakers alike to pass measures such as pension reform (never mind that, as the chief executive of a solidly blue state, he has to). It’s also refreshing to see someone say things like “compromise isn’t a dirty word” and praise the importance of “bipartisan accomplishment.” But both of those are more focus group–approved sound bites than reflections of the man’s true actions.
The reality is that Chris Christie is anything but a moderate. He’s vetoed a number of arguably moderate measures supported by the majority of New Jersey voters. His idea of compromise boils down to presenting his Democratic colleagues with concessions that would go into effect anyway. His one-time willingness to cooperate with the President should not invalidate who he truly is: just another conservative Republican governor.
Last year, Christie vetoed a marriage equality bill that passed the New Jersey State Legislature, arguing that an issue like marriage equality “requires a constitutional amendment [and] should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide,” leaving out that 61 percent of voters already supported same-sex marriage, as well as the millions of dollars that a protracted voting process would inevitably cost.
He even attempted to block the measure in the courts. But spoiler: same-sex couples began getting married in New Jersey last month anyway.
Though Christie’s rationale seems to imply a moderate view, he adamantly rejected the exact same approach to enacting an increase of the minimum wage—that is, putting a constitutional amendment before voters—as “stupid” and “truly ridiculous.” Interestingly enough, New Jersey voters in fact approved the amendment last week and did so by a margin similar to the wide one of Christie’s reelection.
Three years in a row, Christie has vetoed bills to increase state taxes on millionaires.
He firmly opposes a woman’s right to choose to the point of overturning Roe v. Wade, has cut $7.4 million from the state’s family planning services, and rescinded New Jersey’s application for a federal program that would have covered 90 percent of the costs of those exact same family services.
He refused to sign three pieces of gun control legislation, one of which he himself had originally called for. Despite his support of states’ rights, he even blocked New Jersey from setting up its own health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
Now, of course, there was that one time when he admitted that federal assistance may actually be a good thing, for some things—that is, when his state was in shambles and his constituents needed aid. He even went on Fox News and said some nice things about the President. It certainly made political sense for him to do so—had Romney won, Christie wouldn’t be able to run for president until 2020. But still, sure, it was pretty awesome.
Here’s what wasn’t, and what most news outlets conveniently forgot to report about: Prior to Superstorm Sandy, Christie had pulled New Jersey out of the United States’ first-ever cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, calling it “a failure” (it wasn’t then, and it isn’t now). More than that, despite the storm’s expansive and expensive devastation in his own state, Christie has yet to take a position on whether or not climate change—which has often been discussed in conjunction with the increase in extreme weather events—is real.
However, I don’t think all of this “moderate” labeling is actually Christie’s own doing. Though he’s certainly fed the image with ads touting “bipartisanship” and “compromise,” “moderate” is an entirely different word.
Rather, I think Christie’s “moderate” labeling is characteristic of a broader trend in our nation’s politics—a trend towards accommodating increasingly extreme, right-wing views.
Last week, in response to a question from a CNN anchor about whether he thought of himself as a moderate, Christie even said, “I’m a conservative. I’ve governed as a conservative.”
But setting the bar for being a “moderate” this far to the right can and already has had dangerous implications for our country, and it is indicative of our nation’s broader political trend towards accommodating increasing levels of right-wing extremism. However radical these extremists’ views may be, it makes actions such as the Republicans’ criticism of Democrats’ “refusal to compromise” on the shutdown or the Affordable Care Act appear increasingly reasonable.
Moderate should mean more than an understanding of the bare minimal political necessity of cooperating with the opposition; it should mean having moderate policies, and compromising in a way truly worthy of the word.
Anastasia Golovashkina is a third-year in the College majoring in economics.