If Chris Christie runs for president in 2016, he'll build that campaign around three simple words made famous by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: Just win, baby.
Christie made that message abundantly clear in a speech Thursday to the Republican National Committee. “I am in this business to win," Christie told the crowd in Boston, according to CNN's terrific Peter Hamby (Georgetown grad!). "I don’t know why you are in it. I am in this to win."
Christie went on to deride "folks who believe that our job is to be college professors," adding: "If we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win."
What's Christie up to?
He is seeking to draw a very bright line between himself and the likes of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both of whom pride themselves on taking on quixotic political fights for the principle involved. No, Christie didn't name any names in his speech; he didn't need to -- everyone knew exactly who he was talking about.
Christie is betting that he can frame the choice in 2016 between a political pragmatist (him) and political ideologues (Cruz, Rand etc.). The former prizes winning, the latter being "right".
In setting up that contrast, the New Jersey governor, who appears set to cruise to a second term in a blue state in the fall, is placing a big bet that electability will trump orthodoxy in the 2016 Republican presidential primary process. Out of the White House for eight years, Republican voters will understand that a candidate who can win a general election matters more than a candidate with whom they agree on every tenet of conservatism, goes the Christie argument.
It's happened before. When Bill Clinton began his candidacy for president in the early 1990s, he did so explicitly casting himself as a new sort of Democrat, one who could break the lock that Republicans had on the White House for the previous decade-plus. In so doing, Clinton's moderation was cast as an asset rather than a hurdle; it meant that Clinton could actually win rather than simply engage in a losing ideological exercise.
The problem for Christie? Evidence in 2010 and 2012 -- from the presidential race on down -- suggests that Republican voters are moving more toward ideological rather than pragmatic voting. Yes, Mitt Romney wound up as the Republican presidential nominee last year but he came closer than most people realize to losing to ideological warrior Rick Santorum. And, ask Dick Lugar about how the electability argument played out in Indiana for him.
Christie believes that by 2016 Republicans will have tired of charging down orthodox lanes and finding political dead ends and care about one thing and one thing only: winning. It's a bold notion.
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