There is no reason not to attribute serious political motives to Governor Chris Christie’s new love affair with President Obama, but this is politics which directly deals with governing the state of New Jersey and the country. This is the way politics used to be played. It is also why the Republican leadership throughout the country is so furious with Christie and why the President is graciously served by these gestures as well.
New Jersey obviously needs dramatic, prompt and effective federal assistance in response to Hurricane Sandy. Christie’s television appearances and his praise for the President will produce as rapid a response for New Jersey as is possible. In addition, it will be helped by all the photo ops and mutual praise that they will heap on each other as they immediately help those who suffered and continue to face the enormous and expensive task to rebuild.
President Obama is being presidential in coming to New Jersey. This is where presidents go and what they do when tragedy strikes in the country. Presidents reach out to the suffering and offer the assistance of the Federal Government. It is also what Governors do as they manage the crisis.
So why did Christie opt to embrace the President and the federal government’s assistance so aggressively? Why did he decide to alienate his own party’s standard bearer and the national leadership who have spent the past four years interested only in defeating Obama, as Senators DeMint, McConnell, and Representative Cantor, among others, have said?
The answer has a number of components some of which are cynical and selfish but offer hope to those who would believe in the old tradition that people are elected to public office and given the public trust to govern, to compromise, and not to obstruct.
1. Christie is running for re-election next year and exploiting this moment to be out front in helping the citizens of New Jersey may well lock up his re-election. In addition, it may bring him a level of statewide popularity that it might even discourage the extremely likeable mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, from challenging him.
2. Christie is governor of a state that is historically, predominately Democratic. As a Republican he needs to demonstrate—and has done so in the State—that he believes in bi-partisan efforts. His accepting and appreciating the efforts of the Obama Administration sent a message that he will work across the aisle; now and in the future.
3. Christie may believe that Romney has peaked and even if he wins, Romney will need him more than he will need Romney. He and New Jersey, meanwhile, have more to gain now and faster from the seating president.
4. Finally, if Romney does not win, Christie has only elevated himself into an even more prominent national position for a run in 2016. He is seen as someone who not only can manage a crisis, but who believes in reaching across the aisle to govern; a style that has been totally absent from members of his own congressional party as well as from any other potential 2016 GOP aspirants.