Burning bridges will not get Chris Christie to the White House

Chris Christie has shown terrible political instincts in choosing allies if he has any intention of running for president. Photo: Mel Evans, Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, July 27, 2013 — On Thursday, during a forum at the Aspen Institute, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made an inflammatory statement attacking the growing libertarian wing of the Republican Party and endorsing the excesses of state security implemented since 9/11 in the name of protecting Americans from terrorism.

Christie is widely considered to be a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.  As a Republican from a northeastern state who is perceived as a moderate on many issues, he may face problems gathering enough primary votes to win the nomination. 

In that situation, burning bridges with any influential faction within the party seems like a mistake.

Christie specifically went after the perceived anti-war, anti-security stance of many Liberty Republicans.

SEE RELATED: Libertarians to Chris Christie: Is life so dear, or peace so sweet?

“This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” Christie said singling Sen. Rand Paul in his criticism. Christie went on to make an emotional appeal about the victims of 9/11, condemning “esoteric, intellectual debates” and challenging Paul and others to “come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and orphans and have that conversation.”

It is characteristically arrogant of Christie to assume that the survivors of 9/11 believe that an excess of national security at the cost of a whole array of lost civil liberties, is a fitting legacy to their family members.  No one deserves to die at the hands of terrorists, but there has to be some reasonable balance between protecting our safety and preserving our rights.  At what point is making small numbers of Americans incrementally more safe offset by making millions of Americans substantially less free?

Senator Paul should take up Christie’s challenge and engage in a dialog with the 9/11 families and see where they really stand.  Governor Christie might be quite surprised at the result.

As a potential presidential candidate Christie faces an interesting dilemma.  He represents a faction of the party which is small and shrinking as Republicans lose their hold on northeastern moderate voters.  That means he has to reach out to other factions within the very fractured party to build a coalition which can get him the nomination.  With these statements it seems clear that Christie has decided not to throw his lot in with the fastest growing and most dynamic wing of the party.

Spurning the civil libertarian wing of the party throws him into the arms of the warhawks and neoconservatives, another segment in the party whose influence is waning.  In fact, the hostility of the public towards the growing surveillance state and the failure of neoconservative foreign policy have thrown that faction deep into eclipse within the party, so much so that many of their long-time supporters are even jumping ship.

He suggested those stressing the paramount importance of privacy and civil liberties might not seem so principled after “the next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result.”

If Christie’s asset as a presidential candidate is the to ability win general election votes in northern states that Republicans might not otherwise win, he would have been much smarter to reach out to the libertarian wing of the party whose positions on social issues and on the War on Terror have a strong appeal to moderates, independents and even many Democrats who are sick of Obama’s continuation of Bush’s mistakes. 

As the War on Terror becomes more and more associated with Obama no smart Republican can afford to be too closely connected to it.

The pro-war faction in the party is going nowhere.  Its strongest proponents like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have a very limited future in office, compared to Liberty Republican leaders like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee who are young and have long careers ahead of them.  Christie’s choice is backwards looking. 

SEE RELATED: DE GRACIA: The myth of Chris Christie’s two-party “libertarian strain”

He has decided to sign on with the old white men whose dominance of the party is coming to an end against the young, more socially liberal and fiscally conservative generation which is rising and demanding a place at the table.

Christie isn’t all that old himself and he ought to realize that in a long-term battle, unless the party self destructs, youth and vigor will always win.  The tide may not have fully turned by 2016, but the party will be looking for a nominee who represents a successful future and not past failures.  The divide within the party is generational, and if Christie thinks the 40-somethings like Rand Paul are scary, wait until he meets the even younger Republicans who are coming up behind them, like Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan. 

They are even more dedicated to liberty and principle and when they come into power they will be unforgiving.

Perhaps Christie’s comments were spontaneous and genuine, and he cannot be faulted for his sympathy with the 9/11 families.  Yet with these comments he has shown a disregard for larger issues of national policy and a disrespect for the concerns of a large segment of the public which crosses party lines.

SEE RELATED: DE GRACIA: Chris Christie and the truth about “libertarians”

Most importantly, he has displayed poor political judgement which may take him out of the race for president, burning bridges at a time that he ought to be reaching out and finding allies.  Maybe he just doesn’t want to be president.

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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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