Chris Christie – the New John McCain

“Remember the words of Chairman Mao: ‘It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.'” – John McCain

Back in 2002 Robert Torricelli – “the Torch” – was running for re-election as a senator from New Jersey, a seat he had originally won one term earlier in 1996. Torricelli was up against some also-ran Republican named Doug Forrester (nothing against Forrester, but running as a Republican in New Jersey in 2002 makes you an “also-ran” by definition). Before the election Torricelli’s popularity took a nosedive due to some kind of fundraising scandal involving a Korean businessman.

Finding himself 13 points behind in the polls, Torricelli decided to call it quits and drop out of the election, leaving NJ Democrats with a serious problem. If Forrester was going to win against Torricelli on the ballot, he was certainly going to win against “nobody” on the ballot. They had to find a replacement, but the state deadline for replacing a nominee on the ballot had already passed. (Torch thought he could weather the storm and waited too late to get out.) The law was clear, it was an open-and-shut case. Or was it?

Democrats petitioned the state Supreme Court and won. It appeared that the threat of electing a Republican was just too serious to tolerate. The law had to be circumvented … for the good of the people.

Then-governor Jim McGreevey signed off on replacing Torch with recently retired senator Frank Lautenberg – who went on to win in a walk.

McGreevey went on to be gay. Well, I suppose McGreevey had already been gay, he went on to “come out of the closet” in August of 2004, making him the first openly-gay governor. (He joked at the time about being the first politician to have truly had a “mandate” … it was kind of funny.) McGreevey knew he couldn’t win another election and decided to resign effective 15 November 2004 – staying in office just long enough to avoid a “special election” followed by a gubernatorial election on 2 November 2004. The thinking was that an early departure would possibly have led to a Republican governor running as an incumbent on the same ballot with George W. Bush, possibly giving Bush a shot at the NJ electoral votes. So, McGreevey stayed long enough to keep the ballot clean for Kerry, who did win NJ but lost the election.

Torricelli’s insanely illegal replacement on the ballot, Frank Lautenberg, died Monday (he was 89), opening the senate seat again. This time around the governor of NJ is a Republican, Chris Christie, and he again faces difficult political choices surrounding the special election. The general analysis that I’ve seen is that Christie has two real choices – each of which likely will cause him problems. He can either appoint a successor (likely a Republican) and give the Republicans two years in the seat that was stolen from them in 2002 (though won fairly again in 2008) – or – he can call a special election (at some expense to the state) and give the seat quickly back to the Democrats (Republicans will not likely win such a scenario). The second scenario has the added benefit (for Christie) of likely removing Cory Booker (mayor of Newark) from the ballot when Christie runs for re-election in 2013 (Booker will likely run for and win the Senate seat). Christie has chosen the later of these options, angering Republicans.

To my mind this puts Christie squarely in what I would call the “third wheel” of Republicanism. The two larger components of the Republican party are the moderate-to-conservative do-gooders, and the freedom-loving, limited-government Tea Partiers. The former believe in progressive ideals of government-control and government-directed life, they simply hold that a more “conservative” government should be in charge (think Lindsay Graham). The latter of course believe in individual liberty and limited government (Rand Paul / Ted Cruz).

There is though this odd third wheel that comes around every now and again – the “maverick”. These are the people who once thought they were conservatives, but want so desperately to be liked universally that they surrender to the opposition whenever they can as long as it doesn’t cost them anything (regardless  of what it costs others in their “party”).  John McCain was the epitome of this “maverick” type. He loved so much to be praised  by the media when he took on evil conservatives that he did so at every chance … only to be shocked and dismayed when his beloved media turned on him in 2008. He never quite understood that he was only loved as an “enemy of my enemy” never an actual friend.

Christie seems to have taken this maverick approach time and again. He fell over himself to make Obama look good in the “super storm” of 2012 (the mild hurricane that throttled the non-storm-hardened northeast). He has now taken an opportunity to give something back to the party and thrown it away in an attempt to garner praise from traditional political foes and possibly help his own election chances. Christie once looked and smelled like an actual small-government conservative, but political opportunism (and perhaps the need to be loved by the left-dominated press) have turned him into something else: the new John McCain.

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