New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie insists he is “not running for president” and “short of suicide” is having a hard time convincing people “it’s not going to be me.” He said he does not “feel ready in [his] heart,” so all those Republican supporters begging him to get in the race are just “barking up the wrong tree.”
But no one seems to believe him.
“It’s real,” former Gov. Tom Kean said Monday, according to the National Journal. “He’s giving it a lot of thought. I think the odds are a lot better now than they were a couple weeks ago.”
In fact, a source told ABC News’ Jon Karl Tuesday that “he is thinking about it and reconsidering it.”
Former House Democratic Caucus consultant Ross Baker said whether Christie gets in the race will largely depend on who emerges as the likely GOP nominee. While he said he does not think the New Jersey governor will toss his name in the ring, Ross said that Christie “offers the Republicans standby equipment” for if Texas Gov. Rick Perry wins the nomination.
“If it appears later on that the nomination seems to be going to somebody whose chances in the general election are poor, he may be visited by desperate Republicans who say, ‘You’ve got to save the party,’” said Baker, now a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “That would be a very difficult request to turn down.”
Baker pointed out that part of the reason Christie has emerged as a “very appealing figure” among national Republicans is because of his “outspokenness”. For conservatives who are frustrated by Mitt Romney’s reputed flip-flopper status, Christie is “a breath of fresh air,” Baker said.
And Christie’s tough talk on reducing deficits has propelled him to somewhat of a hero status within the Republican Party in this age of budget-cutting and spending-slashing. During his first year in office, the New Jersey governor closed a $11 billion budget shortfall and reduced state spending by 4.7 percent, according to his 2011 budget report.
“They should be talking about treating people like adults and telling them the truth: We’re in huge trouble,” Christie told Politico in 2010. “And it’s going to mean cutting back on a lot of things that folks either have become used to or in a perfect world would like to have.”
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said $11 billion was a misleading number, because it assumed that every state program was funded 100 percent, which he said “the government never does.”
“Chris talks a good game,” Sweeny said, but “if people lift up the hood and look inside they are going to see something different than what Christie’s been selling.”
Because the state legislature is dominated by Democrats, Sweeney pointed out that any austerity measures had to pass the muster of bipartisan compromise. One such initiative was pension and benefit reform for government workers. The reforms, which Sweeney said he began pushing for three years before Christie was elected, will save the state $120 billion over the next three years.
In his two years as the state’s top executive, Christie pushed for lower business and property taxes but left individual taxes untouched. The business tax cuts will save companies $185 million in 2012 and $2.35 billion over five years, said Andy Pratt, the spokesman for the New Jersey Treasury Department.
Christie’s proposed fiscal year 2012 budget reduced spending by 2.6 percent, almost all of which came from a decrease in federal stimulus funds. When the legislature sent him a budget containing $1.2 billion more spending than he proposed, the governor used a “line item veto” to chop $912 million off the price tag.
Shortly after signing the parsed-down budget, Christie chastised the Democrat-controlled legislature for “unconstitutional” spending that was based on “fantasy revenue found between the cushions.”
State Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono said Christie’s line-item vetoes were “retaliatory,” resulted in a “harder squeeze on the middle class” and were “driven less by budget constraints and more by far-right ideology.”
“You couldn’t help but think it was almost a punishment to the Legislature to have the temerity to challenge the governor’s budget proposal,” Buono said.
Fiscal matters aside, Christie’s conservative record on social issues could be a harder sell with Republican primary voters.
“I think that he would come under scrutiny from social conservatives for his lack of zeal in pursuing a socially conservative agenda in New Jersey,” Baker said. “Some of the things that are dear to the hearts of social conservatives he hasn’t shown a lot of interest in.”
Take abortion rights, for example. While Christie has been outspoken in his opposition to abortion, he has not pushed many anti-abortion policies since taking office. Christie’s only major women’s health-related agenda item was the $7.5 billion in subsidies for family planning services, such as Planned Parenthood, which the governor line-item vetoed out of the 2012 budget.
Christie could also run into trouble over New Jersey’s civil union laws, which he made no effort to repeal and which will likely strike a nerve with traditional marriage advocates who dominate much of the Republican base.
Similarly troublesome in a nationwide campaign could be Christie’s past statements on immigration, an issue the current GOP front-runner Rick Perry has recently been pummeled over. Perry’s support for a Texas law that grants in-state tuition to illegal immigrants has become somewhat of an Achilles heel for the Texas governor, inspiring attacks from conservatives who claim the law rewards illegal immigrants.
In 2010 Christie told ABC’s Jake Tapper that there should be “a commonsense path to citizenship for people.” In 2008, while he was serving as New Jersey Attorney General, Christie said living in the U.S. without legal documentation was “an administrative matter” and not a “crime.”
But in an election where jobs are king, Christie’s fiscal hawkishness may trump his more moderate social positions.
“I already know I could win,” Christie told the National Review in March of his possible presidential bid. “The issue is not me sitting here and saying, ‘Geez, it might be too hard. I don’t think I can win.’ I see the opportunity both at the primary level and at the general election level. I see the opportunity.”
“If I felt like I was ready, I’d go,” Christie added. “But I’m not.”
Now, six months later, it seems New Jersey governor just might be ready.