A number of commentators have come around to the view we expressed back in early April, namely that a less risky and more experienced VP choice would be more to Mitt Romney’s liking. That is still the most likely outcome in the VP selection process.
But there is something, many things actually, to be said for someone whom I don’t think was yet in the top three contenders, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). Last month I observed that “he is an emotional, spontaneous politician. He is no shrinking violet, nor is he a stranger to controversy. He would be a higher risk than others.”
That said, there is also higher payoff with Christie on the ticket. Certainly, he would be a dynamic campaigner and help Romney in the not-so-upscale suburbs and the Northeast. But his real benefit, at least to conservatives, would come in governance.
Christie’s tenure in Trenton has been a nonstop display of steel spine and political courage. Bill Gurn contrasts him with California Gov. Jerry Brown:
For his first full budget, Mr. Christie faced a deficit of $10.7 billion—one-third of projected revenues. Not only did Mr. Christie close that deficit without raising taxes, he is now plumping for a 10% across-the-board tax cut. . . .
When the Obama administration’s Transportation Department called on California to cough up billions for a high-speed bullet train or lose federal dollars, Mr. Brown went along. In sharp contrast, when the feds delivered a similar ultimatum to Mr. Christie over a proposed commuter rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, he nixed the project, saying his state just couldn’t afford it.
On the “millionaire’s” tax, Mr. Brown says that California desperately needs to approve one if the state is to recover. . . . Again in sharp contrast, when New Jersey Democrats attempted to embarrass Mr. Christie by sending a millionaire’s tax to his desk, he called their bluff and promptly vetoed it.
On public-employee unions, . . . . for all [Brown’s] pull with unions (the last time he was governor, he gave California’s public-sector unions collective-bargaining rights), Gov. Brown, a Democrat, has not been able to accomplish what Republican Gov. Christie has: persuade a Democratic legislature to require government workers to kick in more for their health care and pensions.
In other words, for nervous conservatives wary that Romney might give up too much ground to Democrats, be too quick to relent on tax increases or be insufficiently bold on crucial reforms, Christie is the ideal spin-stiffener. Unlike a legislator, who is always striving for the “deal,” Christie has become expert in the art of saying “no.”
That doesn’t mean he’d be unable to pass reforms. To the contrary, he, among other things, has enacted one of the boldest state entitlement reforms. But he has also learned when to stand his ground, make the opposition come to him and thereby assure his own side he is going to get the very best deal he can.
Christie likes to say there is a “boulevard” between giving up your principles and refusing to compromise at all. He’s as expert as anyone in steering in that boulevard, as far to the right as he can without going off the roadway.
That talent is one that conservatives would want in any president. And Romney should, too. With Christie, a Romney administration would take on some muscularity. Christie’s participation would give the conservative base some assurance they are getting the most they can in any legislative initiative. In selecting Christie, Romney would be signaling that he welcomes Christie’s unvarnished input and values his tenacity.
Romney has the brains and creativity to be an effective president; Christie has those qualities plus some political brawn. In that sense, what looks like a Mutt-and-Jeff pair could be an effective governing team.