By Jules Witcover
3:35 PM EDT, August 19, 2013
While many of his fellow Republicans continue seeking the Holy Grail of defunding Obamacare and another possible government shutdown over it, New Jersey's brash Gov. Chris Christie has made them an offer they would be wise not to refuse.
The political version of Tony Soprano told members of the Republican National Committee at their recent meeting in Boston: "I'm in this business to win. I don't know why you're in it. ... We are not a debating society; we are a political operation that needs to win."
In the classic in-your-face style for which his state is known, Mr. Christie called on the RNC members to get out of the clouds and down to Earth, focusing on practical politics rather than lofty academic theories on the moral superiority of conservatism.
"I think we have some folks that believe that our job is to be college professors," he told them. "Now, college professors are fine, I guess. You know, college professors basically spout out ideas that nobody ever does anything about. So for ideas to matter, we have to win, because if we don't win, we can't govern. All we do is shout into the wind. So I am going to do anything I need to do to win."
Mr. Christie's message required no Ph.D. to grasp, and the audience could seize on it as an early indication that he intends to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. However, Mr. Christie's New Jersey street-smarts obviously inform him it's much too premature to put himself out there in any fashion, even though his re-election for a second term as governor this fall is considered certain.
But putting his blunt style on display to the party's ruling body — he did so privately with the press excluded and no press conference afterward — was a way of giving these insiders from around the country a taste of what they would be getting if he does become a candidate.
In a party that seems to be moving increasingly toward monolithic thought, especially in its conservative slant, Mr. Christie offers a slashing style that calls for practicality rather than the doctrinaire. It has the prospect of appealing to moderates and independents, and to those voters who pick and choose their issues from a broader menu.
Many Republicans may not have been happy with the 11th-hour life preserver Mr. Christie tossed to President Barack Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which may have helped sink Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. But the gesture in support of hammered coastal Jerseyans demonstrated Mr. Christie's willingness to put state needs before politics.
He also took the occasion of the RNC meeting to poke at another prospective Republican presidential aspirant, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Mr. Jindal earlier labeled as "stupid" fellow Republicans' stonewalling immigration in the face of the huge Hispanic vote for Mr. Obama last fall.
"I'm not going to be one of those people who's going to come and call our party stupid," Mr. Christie said. "There's nothing wrong with our party and its principles and its core. We've got to get back to deciding that the RNC is about electing Republicans." Mr. Jindal, of course, was saying basically the same thing, but with the pejorative word unwisely added.
If Republicans as a whole are looking for a 2016 candidate who can fire up the party's faithful while also appealing beyond its increasingly dominant conservative base — and can get over his avoirdupois — they could do worse than the sharp-tongued and free-wheeling Jerseyan.
Both his appearance and almost bullying persona smack of blue-collar affinity, despite his record as governor that includes a successful battle with the New Jersey Education Association, a centerpiece of the state's labor movement. He boasts of support from 24 building-trade unions there and has called the NJEA "a bully" that uses members' dues as "a $140-million political slush fund" against him.
But you could say that it takes a bully to know a bully. After the easygoing Mitt Romney, who never managed to become a tough guy, Chris Christie would be quite a change of pace for the GOP in 2016. Slugging it out with either Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would offer quite a show.
Jules Witcover is a former longtime writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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