Chris Christie goes small

November 11, 2013

In the wake of his sweeping reelection victory Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) did the Sunday talk show circuit over the weekend.

What was most notable about his appearances -- he was on "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation" and "This Week"  -- was not anything he said, but rather what he didn't.


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talks to the media as he visits Jose Marti Freshman Academy in Union City, N.J., on Nov. 6, the day after defeating Democratic challenger Barbara Buono to win his second term as governor. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

Both the "Face the Nation" and "This Week" interviews began with questions about Iran and its uranium-enrichment program, and both times Christie begged off answering.

"I think there are people who are significantly better briefed on this than I am as the governor of New Jersey," Christie told "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos. To "Face the Nation" host Norah O'Donnell, Christie echoed that sentiment:  "I'm a governor of New Jersey and my job is to run the state of New Jersey, and it's just something, I think, in all seriousness, Norah, folks in my position spout off opinions off the top of their head just wind up doing more harm than good."

And Iran and uranium enrichment were not the only topics on which Christie chose not to elaborate. Asked by "Meet the Press" host David Gregory about chatter surrounding his political future, Christie responded: "I am focused on is doing my job in the state of New Jersey. That's what I ran for. That's what I want to do. " Responding to whether he could be a viable candidate in Iowa or South Carolina in 2016, Christie said, "I'm playing in New Jersey."

On immigration, he avoided offering any sort of potential national policy prescription. "I think the national solution has to be -- has to be figured out by the people who are in charge of our national government," said Christie. "My job is to fix what's going on in New Jersey."

Christie's focus on going small -- or at least retreating within the borders of the Garden State to avoid entangling himself in any of the more intractable national public policy debates -- is an intriguing one that runs counter to what many of his potential adversaries in 2016 are doing at the moment.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz  inserted himself right into the middle of the debate over President Obama's health-care law. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has made himself an outspoken voice on the Obama administration's drone policies. And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is sounding off on virtually every national issue.

Some of that difference is in job descriptions. Sitting in the Senate, the palette of issues is national by default. And Jindal has spent the last year as chairman of the Republican Governors Association -- a position Christie is set to inherit for 2014.

But Christie's focus on New Jersey issues and not national ones still stands out due to his absolute insistence not to allow himself to be goaded into broader policy fights happening in Washington.

There's a three-fold strategy at work there. First, Christie and his team know that the foundation of any national campaign in 2016 will be built on his resume in New Jersey. Without his New Jersey accomplishments, there is no national bid, so by focusing so intently on racking up political and legislative victories in the state, he is doing himself good nationally as well.

And, unlike many of the other pols -- Democrat and Republican -- thinking about 2016, Christie doesn't need to bolster his name identification. Everyone knows him.

Second, Christie's brand is built on being an un-politician or, perhaps more precisely, an un-Washington politician. Given that, there's nothing to be gained by wading into national issues where anything he proposes can't go anywhere anyway.

Third, keeping himself within the lines of his home state allows Christie to deflect virtually any question or issue -- like uranium enrichment in Iran -- that he either doesn't want to answer or doesn't know enough about to answer.

Don't expect Christie to veer from this Garden State Strategy. It has served him well so far.

Conservative group targets Pryor on Obama's judicial nominees: A conservative group is going up with a six-figure ad buy criticizing Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) for voting for President Obama's judicial nominees.

The new ad, from the Judicial Crisis Network, represents the latest outside spending in an already contentious 2014 battleground.

The ad hits Obama's move to "pack a key court" -- the D.C. Circuit Court -- "with new liberal judges." Republicans have already blocked one of those nominees, Patricia Millett.

"When Mark Pryor rubber stamps Obama’s liberal judges, it hurts Arkansas," the narrator says. "Enough is enough: Tell Mark Pryor to go to work for Arkansas, not Obama."

Fixbits:

Christie says it doesn't matter whether he calls himself a conservative.

Christie still won't say whether he'll serve a full term.

Christie attacks Mitt Romney's campaign.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he'll still block Obama's nominees even after "60 Minutes" retracted its Benghazi report.

New York City fights to keep "stop and frisk." 

Leon Panetta says Obama may have to stomach some changes to Obamacare.

Secretary of State John Kerry declines to expound on his assertion that Lee Harvey Oswald likely didn't act alone.

Must-reads:

"Elizabeth Warren: Hillary Clinton's nightmare" -- Noam Scheiber, New Republic

"White House seeks Republican immigration help" -- Reid J. Epstein and Seung Min Kim, Politico

"White House relying more on insurance carriers to help fix HealthCare.gov" -- Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein, Washington Post

"Narrow tea party losses are wake-up call for Republicans" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

"For Obama, and Democrats, it’s crunch time" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Harvard Law outsider became Tea Party hero" -- Matt Viser, Boston Globe

"Bills left in limbo are often just part of the choreography in Congress" -- Ed O'Keefe and David A. Fahrenthold

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Niraj Chokshi · November 10, 2013