Former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement that he’s launching a nonpartisan public policy institute focused on bipartisanship is an in-your-face surprise — not unlike those that helped define his national brand. No wonder some commentators are aghast at what has been characterized — inaccurately, says Christie confidante and institute board chair William J. Palatucci — as a think tank centered on civility.
Christie did, after all, refer to a gay Trenton Democrat as “numb nuts” and suggested that reporters “take the bat out” on a Democratic senator who also happened to be a 76-year-old grandmother. With so many of the former governor’s many uncivil moments available on YouTube, the notion of him founding a public policy institute to encourage across-the-aisle collegiality might seem little more than a testament to the ineffable Jersey-ness of Garden State politics. But restoring bipartisan cooperation and comity is a worthwhile, and timely, goal.
An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll taken shortly after the mass murder at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last year found that a clear majority of Americans from across the political spectrum are worried about whether there’s a connection between violence and the negative tone of national politics. And last month, Cindy McCain, the widow of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R., Ariz., announced a campaign called Acts of Civility in her husband’s memory.
Christie, a failed 2016 presidential hopeful, reliable supporter of President Trump, and ABC News contributor, told NJ.com on Aug. 15 that the nonprofit, nonpartisan Christie Institute of Public Policy will debut Sept. 26 with a lecture by Democratic N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The event is to be held at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.; Christie is a 1987 Seton Hall Law grad.
The institute will offer scholarships and internships to Seton Hall students and conduct research into national and international issues. It won’t focus on Garden State politics, so don’t expect scholarly studies of the dramatically checkered legacy of its namesake, whose leadership style was seen by some as nurturing the culture that birthed the scandal known as Bridgegate.
In fact, when it comes to actual policy, scholars could perhaps learn the most about what not to do by examining Christie’s rejection of a new cross-Hudson commuter rail tunnel, his transformation of the Pinelands Commission into a de facto pipeline approval board, and how state tax “incentives” metastasized into a corporate welfare bonanza for the politically connected on his watch.
Researchers could also look at how Christie’s bluntness was a breath of fresh air, and how this peerless retail politician parlayed his (taxpayer-funded) “town hall” road show into genuine bipartisan support. Christie championed addiction treatment and helped his state stand strong against Superstorm Sandy. And he made allies of enough Democrats to accomplish limited pension and benefits reform.