Chris Christie's Debate Phobia

Playing the Pragmatist & Avoiding Opponents

“We are not a debating society. We are a political operation that needs to win.”

Thus did Chris Christie offer one of the most pregnant statements yet in the ongoing Republican argument over the party’s future. At the risk of sounding like one of those “professors” the New Jersey governor regularly condemns, I’d argue that these 15 words, spoken to a Republican National Committee meeting in Boston last week, raise more questions than they answer. Here are a few.

How do you decide on a winning strategy without debating it first? What is wrong with debating differences on policy and philosophy that people in political parties inevitably have? Don’t the voters expect to have some idea of what a party and a candidate believe before they cast their ballots -- and doesn’t that imply debate? Doesn’t the phrase “political operation” risk implying that you are seeking power for power’s sake and not for any larger purpose?

There is also this: Isn’t Christie himself engaged in an important debate with Sen. Rand Paul over national security issues? There’s nothing academic about that.

One of two things is going on here: Either Christie knows he’ll need to have the debate he claims he wishes to avoid but doesn’t want to look like he is questioning fundamental conservative beliefs; or he really believes that the “I can win and the other guys can’t” argument is enough to carry him to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination he shows every sign of seeking.

His target audience, after all, is an increasingly right-wing group of Republican primary voters who are unforgiving of ideological deviations. The last thing Christie needs is the sort of debate that casts him as a “moderate.”

Let’s stipulate that Christie is far less “moderate” than either his fans among Democrats and independents or the hardest-core conservatives seem to believe. Simply because Christie was nice to President Obama after Hurricane Sandy -- at a moment when New Jersey needed all the federal help it could get -- lots of people forget how conservative the pre-Sandy Christie was.

In 2011, he went to the summer seminar sponsored by the Koch brothers in Colorado, heaped praise on them and said, among other things: “We know the answers. They’re painful answers. We’re going to have to reduce Medicare benefits. We’re going to have to reduce Medicaid benefits. We’re going to have to raise the Social Security age. We’re going to have to do these things. We’re going to have to cut all type of other government programs that some people in this room might like. But we’re gonna have to do it.”

If I were on the right, I’d be taken by Christie’s skills at making conservative positions sound “pragmatic” and “practical.” Candidates who are perceived as dogmatic or highly ideological rarely win elections.

But here’s the problem: You can’t run as a pragmatic candidate if your party won’t let you. For Christie to win, he will have to persuade the grass-roots Republicans who decide nominations that the party’s steady march rightward is a mistake.

Surely Paul, Ted Cruz, and others among Christie’s potential opponents won’t let him slide by without challenging him hard -- yes, “debating” him -- about what he really stands for. Christie needs something more substantial than “You guys are losers,” even though he would relish saying it.

Mitt Romney’s experience in 2012 is instructive. He was a relatively pragmatic governor, especially on health care, and could have been a more attractive candidate than he turned out to be. Yet the dynamics of a Republican primary electorate that is short on middle-of-the-roaders pushed Romney away from his old self and toward positions that made him less electable. Faced with opponents to his right, he was reactive and drifted their way. In the end, it wasn’t clear who Romney was, other than the candidate who spoke derisively about the “47 percent.”

Those who understand how a “political operation” works know that genuine pragmatism requires a defeated party to engage in rethinking, not just repositioning. Bill Clinton laid out a detailed program and a set of arguments as a “New Democrat.” George W. Bush spoke of “compassionate conservatism” and challenged at least some of the most reactionary positions held by congressional Republicans.

Winning re-election this November by the biggest possible margin will buy Christie time. But eventually the debating society will beckon. He’ll have to be very clear, if not professorial, about the argument he wants to make.

(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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     Unfortunately, E.J. Dionne is correct:  Gov. Chris Christie is no friend of working class people or poor people.  In that respect, he is cut from the same cloth as Mitt Romney and the base of the Republican Party.  The only things Republicans, including Christie, can agree on are repealing the "Affordable Care Act" (or Obamacare), which extends affordable health insurance coverage to about 30 million uninsured Americans, and eliminating food stamps for the poor.  According to Dionne, Christie also wants to gut the  Medicare and Medicaid programs.  (Republicans probably are also united in wanting to make all abortions illegal, never mind the consequences.)  They have no vision; they have no solutions to our nation's pressing problems; they just are against everything that President Obama proposes.  Winning for them merely means acquiring and keeping power.  Because they are unwilling to compromse, they are making it impossible for our democratic form of government to function.  The future of our democracy is in doubt.

     Christy wasn't open to debate on his socially liberal ideas either.  In preventing treatment for misguided children, he has shown that his ideas are not open to a free exchange of ideas. 

       Since "homosexuality" is clearly learned/taught, it can be unlearned/taught, even if difficult in some cases.  If you disagree (and I know most, conditioned by libertine Hollywood and the atheist APA, do), try a thought experiment:  say a newborn baby is raised by extraterrestrial aliens who "stimulate" the growing child during puberty.  Will he not become a "zoophiliac"?  How can we say someone is BORN that way?!  This is a lie from the Father of Lies.  People may claim not to remember how the edifice of depravity was constructed, sin upon sin, but if children were observed closely from age 7 to age 17, I am absolutely sure the causality would become apparent.  Connections in the brain are created, one act or thought at a time.  Acts lead to habits, and habits solidify into character.  

     And, really, how does a man—whose father, and grandfather, and great-grandfather . . . back to Adam all, without exception, procreated—come to be the first in a hereditary chain with myriad links to NOT attempt to procreate, to make himself the LAST link?  The answer is:  he DECIDES not to.  

     Humans are unique in the animal kingdom for their neuroplasticity, especially in youth.  To make treatment for a behavior that is clearly associated with depression and STD illegal is a crime.  One thing you can be sure of:  If we encourage evil—if we as a culture say it is acceptable or good—we will get more of it.  

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