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July 26, 2013 2:56 PM Rudy In Disguise

By Ed Kilgore

TNR’s Alec MacGillis argues persuasively today that in his incendiary remarks about “libertarians” and anti-terror policies, Chris Christie has firmly placed himself in the Rudy Giuliani tradition of the GOP:

This is all fun and good for media already desperate for the 2016 race to begin and eager to belabor the glaring rifts within the GOP on any number of issues. But what it shouldn’t be is in the least surprising. We know where Paul stands on this front. And we should have realized that this is where Christie stands as well: as a standard-issue national security hawk. No, we haven’t gotten to see much of it yet since Christie’s job as governor has been more concerned with cutting pensions than firing drones.
But the signs were all there. First of all, Christie is by nature and training a lawman. Second, he is not just a federal prosecutor but one who has been immersed in the Global War on Terrorism by virtue of sitting in New Jersey, which was not only home of several hundred 9/11 victims but also the temporary home of several of the 9/11 attackers and the origin of one of the hijacked planes. In this regard, it’s hard to overstate the similarity with Rudy Giuliani, who like Christie combines a tough-on-terror stance with a cosmopolitan insistence that this need not be construed as bias against the many Muslims in greater New York - recall Christie’s virtuosic rant against conservatives who objected to his nomination of a Muslim lawyer for a Superior Court judgeship.
Finally, follow the money. Christie’s big backers - the millionaires and billionaires who were urging him to run in 2012 - are from the school of conservatives who are liberal on social issues such as same-sex marriage but take a hard-line orthodoxy on tax-cutting and favor an aggressive security posture at home and abroad. The classic example of this type is Paul Singer, the hedge fund titan who helped lead the push for Christie in 2012 and who, at a 2010 fundraiser, railed on and on about “the Obama administration’s inadequate support for Israel.”
This is the realm from which Christie hails. It is why it is wrong to simply cast him as a softie moderate because he’s willing to walk on the beach with Barack Obama. On the national security front, Christie is anything but soft, and as the remarks in Aspen reflect, he’s more than willing to play rough with appeals to the emotions.

Makes perfect sense to me. So if Christie is indeed a Round Mound of Rebound for the Guiliani strain of northeastern Republicanism, what does that mean in terms of his presidential ambitions, insofar as Rudy’s 2008 campaign went straight down the tubes after he led early polls for many months? On the one hand, Christie does not have Guiliani’s record of relentless flip-flopping, his iffy marital history, or most importantly, his heretical position on abortion (which by itself made him a non-starter with many conservatives). On the other hand, you could argue the GOP has become significantly more conservative since 2008, and especially intolerant of the sort of bipartisan or “maverick” instincts Christie exhibited during the Sandy response, for which some GOPers (i.e., those who think it cost Mitt Romney the presidency) may never forgive him.

Since the default sentiment in the GOP these days is to nominate for president the most conservative winning candidate available, Christie’s standing may well depend on who else runs and how the general election polling looks when caucus and primary voters begin to weigh in. The real wild-card is this: while Rudy was in many respects a Neocon dream candidate in 2008, it’s not as though the other candidates (other than the not-taken-seriously Ron Paul) were much disagreeing with him on foreign policy. John McCain had about as much credibility with hard-core Rudyites as America’s Mayor himself, which is why he so quickly picked up Giuliani’s endorsement and base of support. It’s not at all clear right now that Neocons will have the luxury of multiple acceptable candidates in 2016, or that they won’t be in a panic to support Anybody But Rand Paul (or the culturally scary Ted Cruz). Much as he likes to be the center of attention, it’s very likely Chris Christie’s viability as a presidential candidate will depend on factors well out of his control.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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