Hurricane Sandy trampled through New Jersey coastal towns and cities the way a child tramples through a house after returning from the beach. Water and sand are everywhere. Lives and homes have been uprooted and destroyed. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has a mess on his hands. But the provocative surrogate and convention keynote speaker for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is singing the praises of President Obama.
Yesterday, Christie was extolling Obama’s leadership and accessibility. “The President has been all over this and he deserves great credit,” he told the crew at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Christie even bit the heads off the folks at Fox News when they tried to inject politics into the equation. “I have a job to do in New Jersey that is much bigger than presidential politics. I could care less about any of that stuff,” he said when asked if he would be giving Romney a disaster tour. “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”
Oh, presidential politics is at play whether he likes it or not.
President Obama flew Air Force One with Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to Atlantic City. Obama was greeted on the tarmac by Christie, whose warm welcome of the president stood in stark contrast to that of another Republican governor this year.
Ever since Sandy roared ashore, the presidential race has been frozen. The storm seems to have robbed Romney of his momentum. It also robbed him of his most bombastic critic of the president in the final week of an incredibly close campaign. On the flip side, Sandy gave Obama the opportunity to do his day job.
Working with Christie and the other governors affected by the megastorm, the president finally gets to stretch those bipartisan muscles that congressional Republicans refuse to let him exercise. And Christie’s effusive praise of Obama after nailing him as someone groping for the light switch of leadership in a darkened room could prove invaluable. Christie’s purrs for the president could possibly serve as the seal of approval for the few wavering swing-staters out there.
As for Christie, well, there’s nothing but upside for him. The first-term Republican governor of a blue state will get points for working with the president. This will come in handy when Christie runs for reelection next year against a Democrat who might be Cory Booker, mayor of Newark and an Obama surrogate.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.