If Chris Christie does decide to run for the presidency in 2016, he faces obstacles that many political observers believe will be virtually insurmountable. The Garden State governor has sacrificed quite a bit of his stature among conservatives over the course of the last three years. Few political analysts think that Christie can reclaim the prominence he once enjoyed when Republicans in attendance at his 2012 Reagan Library address were literally begging the governor to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency.
Christie’s ebbing support among conservatives has led him to take some risks. This month, the Garden State governor, a proponent of drug sentencing reform, pledged that he would eschew federalism and enforce federal drug laws proscribing marijuana consumption in states where that practice is legal.
This is a position opposed by nearly 60 percent of the public. Moreover, that opposition is shared by 54 percent of GOP voters and 64 percent of self-described independents. As Allahpundit observed, Democrats are hoping to boost youth turnout in 2016 by putting popular marijuana legalization referendums on the ballot in a variety of key swing states. Surely, those voters animated to turn out to vote for legal marijuana will be even more motivated to vote against a Republican who pledges to punish voters for their choices.
Allahpundit noted that Christie is probably sacrificing his claim to be the most electable GOP candidate in order to appeal to a narrow but energetic slice of the Republican primary electorate. But the governor’s hardline stance on enforcing drug laws is not the only risky position he has taken in recent weeks in the effort to resurrect his appeal among conservatives. Christie is also positioning himself as a champion of entitlement reform.
“If you were a small government Republican like myself — I got into politics because of deficits and debt — and you look at what is happening over the next 20, 30 years, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security to a lesser degree, are the only games in town,” the Morning Joe host said on Monday. “I wonder whether Chris Christie’s problems have put him in position where he has to go for broke and do what all the other candidates are not doing — and that is tell the truth about our fiscal house.”
True, Christie’s embrace of entitlement reforms is probably a political necessity for him, but Christie is still performing a great service by championing the restructuring of federal benefits programs. Even if he fails to win his party’s nomination, Christie will have brought attention to a critical issue and compelled his fellow Republican presidential aspirants to make their stance on entitlement reforms known. Already, Christie has induced Jeb Bush to embrace hiking the retirement age, forced Marco Rubio to note changes to entitlement programs are “necessary,” and led Mike Huckabee to denounce politically toxic modifications to benefit programs.
“Talking entitlements, Christie’s political team hopes, will help the more moderate governor break through with primary voters in an unusually crowded field of far-right conservatives,” National Journal reported on Monday. “And they appear to be betting that New Hampshire, with its small 1.3 million population, is where Christie will make his stand.”
But they don’t call entitlements the third rail in American politics for nothing, and many see Christie’s Hail Mary pass downfield as indicative of his increasing desperation. “I’m not looking to be the most popular guy in the world. I’m looking to be the most respected one,” Christie told Today host Matt Lauer. “And the way you do that is by putting out real ideas.”
Forcing Republican presidential candidates to make their position on entitlements clear may be Christie’s best and final gift to his political party.