Why Chris Christie could save the GOP from itself

July 12, 2013

Perhaps no other politician enjoys the cross-party likability that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is sporting these days. And that's why he may just be the key to the Republican Party repairing its brand in the coming years.


(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Christie is viewed favorably by 41 percent of Democratic voters in a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday, compared to just 19 percent who say they view the governor in an unfavorable light. A majority of Republicans and a plurality of independents also say they have a favorable impression of Christie. Overall, Christie's fav/unfav split is 45 percent/18 percent, with 34 percent holding no opinion.

That's in line with a Gallup poll released in June showing more than half (52 percent) of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the governor, compared to 18 percent who said they held an unfavorable view. And in New Jersey, where Christie is a substantial favorite to win reelection this fall, Democrats like the guy too.

The way Christie is viewed in the opposing party is pretty remarkable when stacked up against some other potential 2016 candidates. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is viewed favorably by just 20 percent of Republican voters. And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)? Just 6 percent of Democratic voters view him favorably, the Quinnipiac poll shows.

The findings come as the GOP is tasked with improving its struggling image, something Christie seems as well-equipped as anyone in the party to do. A recent Gallup poll showed that just 39 percent of Americans held a favorable view of the GOP.

Of course, fixing the GOP image in the eyes of non-Republicans is just one part of the problem, which in turn is a potential problem for Christie. Polling shows Republicans have concerns about their party, too, contributing to its struggling overall brand. And Christie has irked conservatives with his embrace of President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and was never a darling on the right to begin with.

But if Christie's numbers hold up over time, it will be hard to argue there is a better ambassador for the GOP to expand its reach. And the power of the electability argument that Christie would be able to make in the 2016 primary shouldn't be underestimated. Washington Post-ABC News polling consistently showed Republicans felt in the 2012 primary that Mitt Romney had the best shot in the general election.

Putting aside 2016 questions, simply having Christie maintain a presence on the national scene would seem to be a good thing for Republicans right now, so it's a good thing for them he isn't camera-shy. Appearances on late-night shows, the early morning circuit and elsewhere are not just good for Christie. They are good for the GOP, too.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Chris Cillizza · July 12, 2013