New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will win big in his re-election contest on Tuesday. His campaign is quick to point out that Democrats outnumber Republicans by 700,000 in a state President Obama won by 17 points last year. If, as is virtually certain, he clears 50 percent, it will be the first time in 28 years a Republican will have done that.
Naturally, then, the purity crowd’s ire is raised. All that support. See, he’s not a real Republican! Well, that’s not much of an exaggeration. The ability to project to a wide, diverse electorate means that Christie, almost certain to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, brings with him a broader electorate not accessible to the right wing. Rather than bellyache about his diverse base of support, Republicans might learn a thing or two, or eight, from Christie:
1. Don’t show up in minority communities only at election time. For four years Christie has been going to minority communities, focusing on improving inner-city schools, neighborhood safety and building alliances. Republicans have to show up and represent minority communities even when those voters don’t support them. It’s a long-term proposition that takes sincere and sustained effort.
2. Make the emotional connection with voters. Sandy was a once-in-a-lifetime event, even for New Jersey, the way 9/11 was for New York. Like Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Christie literally embraces voters. He was the engine of the state’s recovery and a unifying force for the state. His ads highlighting blue-collar voters helped by him show that empathetic leadership can defy party loyalty. As he told Peggy Noonan, “Politics is a feeling. It’s a visceral reaction to someone.”
3. Don’t be a phony. Christie’s favorite phrase, “I am who I am,” should be every candidate’s mantra. If you’re not from the South, don’t start goin’ around tellin’ folks stuff while dropping your Gs.
4. Do something. Christie has an actual record to which he can point. He doesn’t just empathize with voters. He knows they want elected leaders to do things for them, whether it is cut taxes or get the beach cleaned up.
5. Humor helps. A candidate doesn’t have to be a stand-up comic, but he or she can relate via humor. Self-deprecating humor is the best way of showing humility and good cheer. (Note that President Obama and blowhards like Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas virtually never make a joke at their own expense.)
6. Take the jargon and the process-talk out of campaigning. No bill numbers and no arcane references to legislative procedure. Voters don’t know what you are talking about and don’t care why something didn’t happen (e.g. “S.B. 3435 couldn’t get out of committee”).
7. Don’t talk political philosophy. If you have to tell voters how conservative you are or justify policies on ideological grounds, you are in trouble. Likewise, don’t invoke the Founding Fathers, Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher to argue why, for example, your property tax bill is a good idea. Explain why something is a good idea and what it does for voters.
8. Be an optimist. Foretelling the end of American greatness is a downer. Instead, provide some uplifting reassurance. Things are going to get better. We will get the job done.
That so many GOP officials and candidates don’t get these basics explains, in part, why the GOP brand is so damaged. Nevertheless, this isn’t rocket science, and good, smart candidates can and should check out what winners, especially winners-by-double-digits, do.