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Chris Christie’s Transformation

Posted By Russ Roberts On November 7, 2012 @ 5:37 pm In Politics | Comments Disabled

In the aftermath of Romney’s loss, many are pointing to the role Hurricane Sandy played in the defeat. It appears to have stopped Romney’s momentum. How? First, it took Romney and the election out of the news. Second, it allowed Obama to appear presidential. But third, the embrace both literally and figuratively of the President by Chris Christie gave the President the chance to appear not just presidential, but bipartisan. Talk about reaching across the aisle. Christie gave the President gushing praise that helped the President and undercut Romney who was pushing his bipartisan potential in the closing days of the election.

I have no idea if this is true or how important it is. I’m more interested in what Christie was thinking.

This story in the Washington Post from about a week ago raises the puzzle of Christie’s transformation from attack dog to affectionate puppy and argues (this was written before the election) that Christie’s interaction with Obama would help Christie in 2016:

As a leading surrogate for Republican Mitt Romney, Christie has been a regular critic of Obama on the campaign trail.

At a Romney rally 10 days (and a seeming lifetime) ago, the governor offered that Obama is “blindly walking around the White House looking for a clue,” adding that “he’s like a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can’t find it.”

Now he is more apt to describe his relationship with Obama as “wonderful,” as he did in the aftermath of the disaster.

There is no professed motivation for Christie’s newfound feelings for the president, other than that the two men are now partners in a massive effort to rebuild his state. Asked about the election on “Fox & Friends,” Christie said, “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” adding: “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”

Whether or not there is a political motivation here for the governor, there is certainly a potentially big benefit. Insofar as he is talked about as a serious contender in the 2016 presidential race — he nearly took the plunge this year — putting himself above politics to help his home state in a time of disaster is the sort of thing that voters tend to admire.

Now it looks like the opposite–voters in general may admire that sort of thing, but the ones voting in the 2016 Republican primaries are likely to take a different view. Maybe Christie didn’t anticipate it.

So why did the man who seemed to hate the President one moment seem to be enthralled with him the next? I don’t think he took some strategic position thinking about 2016. I think it’s simpler than that. As the Post story put it:

There is no professed motivation for Christie’s newfound feelings for the president, other than that the two men are now partners in a massive effort to rebuild his state.

I think that’s enough. A guy comes along who has a lot of money that can help you. True, it’s other people’s money and it comes with strings. But you’re out there trying to show how much you care. How can you not be nice to him? You’re thinking this storm is going to make you look bad. This guy from Washington makes you look good. Maybe Christie’s transformation is not so hard to understand.

So which one is the real Christie? The hard core critic of Obama or his best friend?

I’d say neither. In both cases, he was responding to incentives. That’s what politicians do.

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