Don't believe everything you hear about Gov. Chris Christie. In fact, don't believe most of what you hear about Christie. The conventional wisdom tends to be that the incumbent won a second term as New Jersey's governor a) because of his strong presence after Superstorm Sandy and his figurative if not literal embrace of President Obama or b) he's a loud, in-your-face no-BS truth teller.
Yes, those notions helped, and I do think Christie was tough to beat -- even in a pretty blue, moderate-to-liberal state, even if his opponent had been someone like Sen. Cory Booker and not the women that Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" labeled "Some Democrat." But the race would have been much, much closer -- and Christie's reputation as a 2016 presidential front-runner, would have been severely tarnished -- if it hadn't been for one thing: Democratic bosses (yes, they have these) tanked.
In her concession speech Tuesday night, state Sen. Barbara Buono (a.k.a. "Some Democrat") blurted out the truth, saying her campaign aides "withstood the onslaught of betrayal from our own political party." She added later about related events: "I took one for the team. The only problem, I realized too late there was no team." How did Christie get such widespread support from Democratic bosses, mayors, and others? Was it his good looks and charm? Well...I'm sure that helped, but mostly Christie won bipartisan support the old-fashioned way: He bought it.
Long before Buono entered a race that no other Democratic contender wanted to come near, Christie had already won the campaign. While the cameras and the social-media feeds and the political pundits focused on Christie's forceful personality, his often over-the-top comments and his welcoming embrace of President Obama after Sandy, Christie was planting the seeds for his own reelection, Democratic mayor by Democratic mayor, Democratic boss by Democratic boss, Democratic union leader by Democratic union leader. As the ancient Chinese military tome "The Art of War" noted, "Every battle is won before it is fought."
This excellent column by Charles Stile is larded with good examples:
Christie forged ties with Democrats for symbolic as well as strategic reasons. He secured the endorsement of Michael Blunt, the African-American mayor of Chesilhurst in Camden County, one of only three small towns that former Gov. Thomas H. Kean did not carry in his 1985 reelection landslide.
Blunt said he was impressed with Christie's forthright style and the help the town received from the Department of Community Affairs in getting the town's finances in order. And that help was boosted by a $200,000 special state aid package for economically distressed towns in 2011.
"We received transitional aid when a lot of other towns didn't receive any," Blunt said.
Christie won the endorsement of Harrison Mayor Ray McDonough after the governor secured approval from the Port Authority for a $250 million PATH transit hub for the downtown. Harrison was also the beneficiary of a $2 million state aid award in 2012.
Christie also attracted mayors with the promise of access and assistance in the future.
That's classically smart politics -- somewhere Down There, Lyndon Johnson is probably looking up and smiling. But actually it's terrible politics for your 2016 national Republican Party, especially in those blood-red Southern and Western states that have an out-sized influence on choosing the GOP's presidential nominee. Money for cities? They hate cities! Money for trains? They hate trains! Money for Democrats? They really, really hate Democrats.
In fact, they hate government spending money on anything but tanks and cruise missiles (also Medicare...shhhh). Republicans used to be as good (or "good") at doling out the pork-barrel bacon as Democratic, but not these days. Voters may claim to want bipartisanship, but the reality is that Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and any other Tea Party types who throw their hats into the 2016 ring are going to bludgeon Christie with his money-laden trail of back-room deal-making...if they're smart enough to know where the bodies are buried.
And here's a loosely related Christie rant: Ever since Wednesday, Christie has been "the big story" (unlike Time magazine, no pun intended) on national cable news, on talk radio and elsewhere. On the left-leaning shows, the Democrats claim they're beginning to learn there's a lot of negative info they can throw at his 2016 candidacy. Excuse me? More than 2 million New Jerseyites went to the polls on Tuesday, and NOW, after they've decided who'll run their state for the next 3-4 years, we're going to cover the guy?
It's almost like the media wanted to make sure that Christie got pumped way up before knocking him down. Could journalists really be that cynical?