Chris Christie was the current Republican frontrunner for the 2016 elections as well as the only Republican who currently beats the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, it set off a firestorm of indignation among some conservatives. Many deride Christie as a “RINO” who would be almost as bad as Clinton. Others go further and claim that Christie is a Democrat in disguise. A number of angry conservatives say that Christie is dead to them.
A good place to start when trying to determine whether a Republican is a RINO is the American Conservative Union. The ACU rates members of Congress and state legislatures by their votes and determines whether they are “true conservatives” or not. In a previous article, Examiner found that most Republicans who are commonly labeled RINOs easily pass Ronald Reagan’s 80 percent rule. The ACU does not rate governors, however, so one must examine Gov. Christie’s record in New Jersey.
There are many aspects of Christie’s career that conservatives can cheer. The governor seems to be an authentic fiscal conservative. John Nichols of The Nation, a liberal site, says that Christie is in the mold of Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Nichols cites a long list of complaints that include raising the retirement age for state employees and increasing their required contribution for insurance and retirement plans, opposing tax increases on the wealthy, vetoing minimum wage hikes and pay equity bills, and trimming state budgets. Christie has taken on New Jersey’s public employee unions and won. One teacher’s union leader even publicly wished him dead in a tasteless joke in 2009.
Christie has not raised taxes during his time as governor. Politifact does note that he cut several tax credits such as the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Homestead Benefit, which provides a credit on property insurance. The EITC is a refundable credit that can be paid out to individual filers even if they have no tax liability. Politifact also confirmed that Christie balanced New Jersey’s budget as its constitution requires. Christie has also taken steps to fix New Jersey’s underfunded pension program according to the Trentonian. New Jersey’s pension problems are not resolved, but underfunded pensions are a national crisis that many states and cities have not even begun to address according to CNBC.
Christie is pro-life. In 2011, New Jersey News described Christie’s remarks before a pro-life rally at the statehouse in which he said that “every life is precious and a gift from God” and noted that he had cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Christie urged the activists “to speak calmly and clearly and forthrightly for the idea that this is an issue whose time has come.” Salon describes Christie’s conversion from a “non-thinking pro-choice person, kind of the default position” when he heard his unborn daughter’s heartbeat as seemingly much more genuine than Mitt Romney’s.
Christie’s appeal to minorities is also a very good thing for conservatives. As reported by Examiner after his re-election victory, exit polls from New Jersey show that Gov. Christie made deep inroads into Barack Obama’s core constituencies. Christie won female voters by 15 percent even though the Democratic candidate, Barbara Buono, was a woman. He also won Hispanic voters outright with 51 percent (compared to Buono’s 45 percent). Although Christie did not win the black vote, at 21 percent his percentage of the black vote was three times greater than Romney’s. A successful Republican presidential candidate will have to appeal to minority voters.
With respect to global warming and climate change, the Huffington Post noted that when Christie ran for governor in 2009, he had “an impressive green agenda” on his website according to the New Jersey Environmental Federation, but that it has remained only on the website. Since then, he told a town hall meeting in 2010 that he was “a little skeptical” that humans are responsible for climate change. The Post story goes on to say that Christie withdrew New Jersey from the Northeast’s regional cap-and-trade plan, weakened the state’s renewable energy standard and used $210 million from the state’s clean energy fund to balance the budget. On the other hand, Christie opposed oil drilling and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities off the New Jersey coast.
The news about Christie isn’t all good for conservatives, however. For example, Christie accepted the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act. He justified approving the expansion by noting that New Jersey’s Medicaid program was already so large that the potential expansion of the program under Obamacare was minimal, a claim confirmed by Politifact. Christie did veto a bill making the expansion permanent, telling N.J. Spotlight that if the terms of the expansion change “because of adverse actions by the Obama administration, I will end it as quickly as it started.” Republican governors John Kasich of Ohio and Mike Pence of Indiana also accepted the Obamacare Medicaid money according to the N.Y. Times.
Many conservatives also do not like Christie’s position on gun control. In 2009, Christie told Sean Hannity that he supported “common sense laws that will allow people to protect themselves” but also favored some gun control measures that would protect police. He noted that the state’s Democratic legislature would not allow easing restrictions on guns.
In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, Christie established a task force to “responsibly expand New Jersey’s strict gun control measures” according to the Washington Times’ Emily Miller. Christie signed 10 gun control bills into law, including a measure that required the state to submit mental health records to the FBI for instant background checks, but vetoed three others, including a ban a .50 caliber rifles. The NRA hailed the vetoes even though the group rated Christie as a “C.”
On same sex marriage, Christie is also at odds with many conservatives. In October 2013, he dropped the state’s appeal of a court decision striking down New Jersey’s marriage law in spite of the fact that he had previously vetoed a bill that would have allowed same sex marriages. The decision can likely be explained by the fact that previous court decisions made it very unlikely that Christie would have prevailed in court. Additionally, it is clear that the people of New Jersey supported the redefinition of marriage. A Rutgers Eagleton poll at the time showed that 61 percent of New Jersey voters favored marriage for same-sex couples compared to only 27 percent who were opposed. Sixty-seven percent opposed continuing the appeal. Even the state’s Republicans were almost evenly split on the court decision and whether to appeal although slight majorities of Republicans opposed both. Coming right before the election, pursuing the unpopular appeal could have sunk Christie’s campaign.
Christie’s decision to sign a bipartisan bill banning gay reparative therapy is harder to justify. Politico reported that Christie’s note accompanying the bill said that he believed that people were born gay and denied that homosexuality is a sin, a position inconsistent with his Catholic faith. A similar ban in California was challenged on First Amendment grounds and upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2013. At least two lawsuits have been filed against New Jersey’s ban according to NJ.com.
Christie’s appointment of Sohail Mohammed to the New Jersey Superior Court was also controversial. Mohammed is a native of India who immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. As an attorney, he specialized in immigration law and represented dozens of immigrants who were detained in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mohammed’s career is profiled on Superlawyers.com.
The criticism of Mohammed seems to stem mostly from the fact that he is a Muslim and the fear that he might help to institute sharia law in New Jersey. Some critics also point to his ties with the American Muslim Union which some believe is tied to Islamic terrorists. Of the controversy, Christie said in the Wall St. Journal, “It's just crazy, and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies.”
Speaking of immigration, Republican hardliners won’t like the governor’s history on illegal immigration. In 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor, Christie told a gathering of Latinos that illegal immigration was a civil, not criminal, matter and that, technically speaking, illegal immigrants are not committing a crime by being in the country illegally according to NJ.com. Although he is correct, “illegal [unlawful] presence” is a civil violation, not a misdemeanor or felony, Christie drew criticism from conservatives for the remark. New York Magazine noted that Christie only prosecuted 13 illegal immigration cases between 2002 and 2007, a very low number considering New Jersey’s status as a port of entry the state’s large immigrant population. In December 2013, Politico reported that Christie had announced that he planned to sign New Jersey’s DREAM Act.
One of the hardest things for conservatives to get past may be Christie’s “bro-mance” with President Obama. When Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey and New York a week before the 2012 election, the two executives toured storm damaged areas and traded compliments. A famous photo shows the two men shaking hands, Obama resting his hand on Christie’s shoulder, in Atlantic City on Oct. 31, 2012. Many conservatives, such as pollster and pundit Dick Morris, blame Christie for making Obama look like a bipartisan leader, an appraisal that had eluded him for the previous four years.
An Examiner analysis of 2012 exit polls found that 64 percent of voters said that the president’s response to the hurricane was a factor in their vote and 62 percent of these voters chose Obama. Both Rasmussen and Gallup polling showed an uptick in Obama’s approval ratings in the days after Hurricane Sandy struck New York.
There are several theories as to why Christie, who actively supported Mitt Romney, became a cheerleader for Barack Obama less than a week before a very close election. The most likely answer is that Christie was doing what he thought was best for his state. It probably did not hurt that the move was also good for Chris Christie. The governor’s approval rating jumped to 70 percent after the storm according to Philly.com.
In the end, Chris Christie can’t be accurately termed a RINO, but neither is he a hardcore conservative. If he were, he would be unelectable in a state as blue as New Jersey. In reality, Christie seems to be a fiscal conservative who is moderate on most social issues. Christie’s views might play well with moderate voters in a general election, but the recent shift towards libertarianism by many in the Republican Party makes it unlikely that he will get past the primary unless other candidates split the votes of social conservatives and Tea Partiers.
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