Chris Christie

They Are What We Thought They Are

Republican DebateIowa’s behind us. And the New Hampshire GOP primary is on the doorstep.

Some clarity is emerging. As are some confirmations of earlier thoughts. Throw in some random observations.

And here we are..

Donald Trump’s winner “record” is littered with quits and walkaways. Stay tuned! This guy could take his ball and bats and go home at any time.

His history defies what he says about himself. He penchant for saying “forget about it” remains a wildcard.  Writes Ben Schreckinger of Politico Magazine:

Like many successful businessmen, the real estate developer and GOP pack leader – who often espouses his disdain for “losers” — does not see every venture and contest through to the bitter end. Throughout his career, Trump has demonstrated wild enthusiasm at the start of big projects, and ruthlessly pursued a profit agenda that, in many cases, has led him to ditch the deal when the risks, whether financial or reputational, start to outweigh the prospective reward.

From a casino in French Lick, Indiana, to a dispute with condo owners in Panama and even in renewing “The Apprentice” reality show on NBC, Trump has time and again spotted the point of diminishing returns and quit.

Ted Cruz is a shameless chameleon.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni vividly tells us how Cruz easily shifts from one position to another. In particular, he cites Cruz “supporting” Carly Fiorina’s attempt to be included the GOP primary in that state.

Noting that New Hampshire has a female governor and two female senators and that it would be a safe bet that “women will play an especially consequential role” in Tuesday’s vote, Bruni writes:

In the end Fiorina failed in her bid, but Cruz succeeded in presenting a version of himself that I’d not yet had the pleasure of meeting: the knight in sliming armor.

Marco Rubio is Johnny Cale, the Ralph Macchio character from the The Outsiders.

Remember Johnny, smaller and slighter than the rest – always hustling to keep up? Always wanting to prove himself to the bigger guys? Here’s a portion of the character’s description from IMDb website.

If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you’ll have Johnny. He is the youngest .. and the smallest. He has big black eyes in a dark tanned face. His hair is jet-black … He is the gang’s pet and everyone’s kid brother.

We thought Jeb Bush was a general-election candidate, not a primary candidate.  Now we know it.

It isn’t complicated. It didn’t work in his own party, which is interesting because you have to believe his centrality is made for a general. Patricia Murphy of Roll Call tries to explain what the end of the campaign looks like.

But the men and women going out to see Jeb in New Hampshire weren’t ready to say goodbye yet. They defended him the way you’d defend an old friend, calling him “honest,” “decent” and “a good man.” His no-frills approach could play well among New England independents on Tuesday and more pragmatic Republicans in South Carolina. Jeb promised that’s where he’s going next this time with his brother, George, along.

Republican voters continue to miss the fact that John Kasich is, and continues to be, the adult in the GOP room.

The Ohio governor has bet the farm on his showing in New Hampshire, not unlike the other two governors (Bush and Chris Christie) who are trying to stake out the establishment lane – if one still exists — in the Republican Party.  Write Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont of The Washington Post:

Kasich has prided himself on avoiding direct criticism of his rivals during the campaign, and kept up that strategy both in the debate and as he campaigned Sunday. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could win being positive?” Kasich said on Fox News.

Still, one has to ask: Does Kasich’s centrality and moderate tone make him a walking-talking anachronism? Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Win or lose, John Kasich will go down in New Hampshire as something of an anomaly in this most aggrieved political season.  The Ohio governor has campaigned for president on a message of relentless optimism, shunning the dark rhetoric, apocalyptic vision and slashing style of many fellow GOP hopefuls

Chris Christie’s really not a Jersey guy.

First of all, Jersey guys don’t tell you they are Jersey guys. Instead, they intentionally bump into going through the men’s room door or they stick their middle finger out the car window as they race by you. They also don’t root for the Dallas Cowboys instead of the Giants.

Jersey guys also don’t wait until this late in the campaign to chew up another candidate with attacks and sarcasm. A real Jersey guy would never have stood at that podium on the far side of the stage for this long.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out that Christie also didn’t take on Trump and allowed him, instead, to be the big dog. And that’s not Jersey.

But for Christie, whose yard signs boast of a candidate “telling it like it is,” the biggest problem of all might be Trump. Trump has usurped the Christie brand of being the unrepentantly loudmouthed alpha male who will tell you the truths that other candidates avoid.

Ben Carson … how in the world has he lasted this long?

What was interesting – and worthy of a few Google searches — in the beginning soon became bizarre and inexplicable.

David A. Graham in The Atlantic notes that Carson not only defied much of the conventional wisdom about how long his campaign would last, but that he also spent a lot of money doing so.

The surprise for Carson is perhaps not that he is fading as the race reaches the actual voting stage — it’s how it took so long. In a cycle when pundits’ many predictions have been proved wrong, it was actually fairly easy to guess that Carson, a first-time candidate with a great personal appeal but mixed-up policy positions, would end up near the back of the pack. The question is how he managed to rise and then fall back to earth.

Carly Fiorina is the GOP’s Martin O’Malley — and vice versa.

It’s all been an audition for either the vice presidential nod, or at least a role in a future Republican administration – or, much like Carson, to help promote a book. She’s already denied it, as Rebecca Leber of the New Republic wrote last year, but … c’mon!

Her latest book, Rising to the Challenge, came out the same week in May that she announced her candidacy. Many believe Fiorina is vying to be the vice presidential pick (she’s a long shot for that, too), which she denies.

So, at the end of the day, we are left quoting ex-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green:

They are what we thought they are.

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Our 2016 Candidates: Is This The Best We Can Do as a Country?

democrat-donkey-republican-elephantFor a moment, let’s step back from Hillary vs. Bernie, and Trump vs. … well, Trump, and address what might be the more important question – at least as it pertains to all of the rest of us.

Are the 20 candidates who started this presidential-election process the absolute best we can come up with? Or, as one friend recently said to me: “We’ve having a presidential election and the roster of candidates is worse than the Lakers’ roster.”

There are quick, talking-point answers to that question, of course: For the Democrats, the prospect of the Clinton coronation was proffered as a foregone conclusion and likely tamped down expectations. Understood, in theory. Maybe not so much in reality.

And, cutting across both parties, there’s this other interesting phenomenon – namely, that the candidates generating the most excitement and attention as well as significant support – Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz – can easily be seen as “primary candidates” only. You know, intriguing “diversions” who could never get elected in a national election.

A momentary aside: Despite the fact that many commentators link these three to voters’ “never-before-seen” disdain and disgust with the status quo, the respective manias we’re experiencing with each aren’t necessarily new. Think Gene McCarthy …

From the Los Angeles Times:

Sanders’ ideas have stirred the ideological fervor of old progressives and young millennials, just as Eugene McCarthy once did when those old progressives were young students protesting a war.

… or George McGovern, Ronald Reagan (the first time around) or Howard Dean and others.

From USA Today:

Dean himself has jumped into the comparison game.

“There’s certainly an insurgency,” Dean said of Sanders in a recent Washington Post article. “An attractive candidate is basically calling out the Democrats, much the way I did in 2004.”

But, stepping back, one (at least this one) still can’t get away from the fact that the weakness of the overall field is startling in a country of 320 million-plus people. (Look, Canada, with its population of less than 40 million, now has Justin Trudeau and … uh, never mind.)

Moving back to the U.S. …

On the Democratic side, we’ve addressed the Bernie phenomenon above. As for Hillary, short and sweet might be best – damaged; defensive; feeling of entitlement; doesn’t connect with a large proportion of people … including those who probably will end up voting for her.

From The Hill:

“Her challenge remains the same as it always has been — show voters who she is and reveal the person beneath the candidate,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton University. “To win people’s trust and to generate enthusiasm, she has to let some of her character come out.”

“She has so many qualifications: experience, knowledge, partisan skill,” Zelizer said, adding that the likability factor “is what she needs to work on.”

And then there’s Martin O’Malley. Could O’Malley have been a more-compelling figure, given that he’s been angling for this opportunity for eight years? Or is Martin O’Malley, unfortunately, simply who we always thought he was – and nothing more?

Are Gavin Newsom, Deval Patrick and Andrew Cuomo simply too damaged?

Is Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service,” unfortunately John Hickenlooper, the self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service.”

Is it too soon for Corey Booker and either of the Castro twins from Texas?

Did Jerry Brown shed his Gov. Moonbean  too late in life?

From the Los Angeles Times:

To watch Jerry Brown is to marvel at just how many political lives he can squeeze into his years on stage.

This Brown, who Thursday put on a conservative suit and tie to read his speech, was inconceivable in 1992 when he was storming the country in a black turtleneck — his ranting and ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign spurred by anger and little else.

On the GOP side, the dearth of candidates was not a problem. But, similar to the Democrats’ issue, the Bush coronation that many expected got derailed because the candidate has warts – or simply was doing something he really didn’t want to do.

Quickly, working through most of the group: Ben Carson leveraged his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast evisceration of President Obama into a presidential run that mystifies many; Marco Rubio is doing well at times but still seems as if he’s on the stage four years too soon; Cruz is busy being Cruz, and arrogantly believing his shtick will translate into a national campaign; Bush is flummoxed; Carly Fiorina quickly rose to prominence and then quickly disappeared; Chris Christie and John Kasich, representing the GOP’s grown-up lane, are at the respective edges of the stage screaming and trying to get attention; Rand Paul is not understanding that his attention-getting antics on the Senate floor were years ago and he isn’t being noticed. (I’ll leave out those who sat at the kiddie table at the debates. Nothing new to say about that other than George … George Pataki?)

So a vacuum was created and Trump was more than happy to jump into it, full throated and with a clever strategy in his pocket. The strategy: play to people’s emotions with bumper-sticker proclamations, jingoistic talking points worthy of the old No-Nothing Party.

From The New Yorker:

He is the latest representative of an anti-immigrant, nativist American tradition that dates back at least to the Know-Nothings of the eighteen-forties and eighteen-fifties. On the other hand, Trump is a twenty-first-century celebrity politician who ruthlessly exploits his fame and his insider knowledge of how the media works to maximum effect.

He also possesses a dedicated avoidance of real issues. All of this buttressed by a vapor-like debate strategy that emphasized the message that he is positioned at the center of the stage because his poll numbers are the best.

(Another aside: One can’t help but wonder when poll numbers became a credible substitute for credentials, as in, “Of course, I’m qualified, my poll numbers are higher than anyone else on the stage.”)

And, so, we move forward with the expectation that Iowa and New Hampshire will start to bring us clarity. Unfortunately, as things become clearer, all we will find out is that the final two unfortunately came from the original list of 20. And, unlike the Lakers, we won’t even get a draft choice or be able to sign a free agent.

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Christie’s “Denial Habit” Runs Amok

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Chris Christie has a problem.  No, not that.

His problem is that he’s in a constant state of denial, brought about by the whole Bridge-gate thing. He’s gotten so used to denying things that now he is denying that he will announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination on Tuesday at the high school he attended in Livingston, N.J.

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post and a slew of other publications tell us he does plan to announce.  Even Fox News is reporting that a Tuesday announcement is imminent.

But reports from CNN and others say he’s not going to announce.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie refuted reports that he has made the decision to run for president during a radio interview on Thursday night.”There’s been absolutely no final decision made by me,” he said during his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio appearance on NJ101.5. “There’s lots of people who speculate lots of things, and I can’t be held to account for every bit of speculation that’s in the press.”

The fact is, Christie has been on a pretty long “denial streak.”  This is a guy, remember, who even denies hecklers the right to heckle.

Only one active politician has a comedian’s disposition when it comes to hecklers. Lucky for us, he’s announcing for president next Tuesday. “Sit down and shut up,” Chris Christie told one heckler last fall. When campaigning with Meg Whitman in 2010, he interrupted a heckler who was harassing her, saying, “You want to yell, yell at me.” “Either sit down and keep quiet or get out of here,” Christie told a protester last spring. “We’re done with you.” Just four months ago, after being heckled in Iowa, Christie so cheerfully acknowledged that the jeering was a plus that you almost wonder if the hecklers were planted. “My people follow me everywhere…it’s fabulous,” he said. “I’m magnetic.”

And denies earlier positions.

Gov. Chris Christie’s shifting positions on education, immigration reform and other policy issues as he contemplates a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are supplying fodder for critics, who accuse the second-term governor of being a flip-flopper.

And acts as if obvious problems don’t exist.

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has said little in recent months about roads and transit even as his own transportation commissioner, Jamie Fox, has forcefully called for revenue for the state’s depleted transportation trust fund. Despite the governor’s relative silence, the troubles of the state’s transportation agencies have emerged as a grinding issue for him, including the scandal involving his appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the growing backlash over his decision to halt construction of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

There is one thing Christie hasn’t denied or said no to, however.  No, not that.It was Sandy relief funds from the federal government.

Election Day 2013: Messages, Messages and More Messages

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Another election day.  Another day of winners, losers and pundits driving home carefully rehearsed and thought-out messages.  Some were positive and others were negative.  Some were subtle and others were overt.

But they all had a purpose.  Well, most of them anyway.

And then there was Toronto, where there was no election — but more on that later.

In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a landslide winner in his reelection campaign, was anything but subtle to speaking to his supporters after his never-in-doubt victory was confirmed.

“If we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now and see how it’s done,” he said to a roaring crowd – all of whom understood what he was implying.

Another statement had an interesting dual-meaning message.  “I did not seek a second term to do small things,” the governor said.  “I sought a second term to finish the job – now watch me do it.”

Earlier in the day, while appearing on CNN, Christie carefully burnished his GOP credentials, ensuring that he didn’t move too far away from the Republican right, but also making room for moderates and other who might be fed up with government’s recent behavior.  “I’m a conservative,” he stated.  “The difference has been I haven’t tried to hide it, or mask it as something different.”

Moving south from New Jersey to Virginia, the Republicans lost an opportunity to hold onto the statehouse when state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s strident hard-right approach drove females to the voting booth to support Terry McAuliffe, a less-than-powerhouse candidate who nevertheless had a huge lead heading into election day.

Interestingly, however, the Obamacare website fallout gave Cuccinelli a last-minute reprieve, which caused him to move to a new message (“If you want to send a message to Washington and vote no on Obamacare, I need your vote”).  To his credit, the messaging change nearly did the impossible, and narrowed McAulilffe’s ultimate victory to a sliver.

In Houston, Annisse Parker, the first openly gay politician elected mayor of a major U.S. city, won her third two-year term.  Realizing that simple messaging often works best, she told a news conference why she won: “If the city weren’t doing so well, I would not be standing here tonight.”  Importantly, even while sounding humble, her message enabled the mayor to put the economic gains in her win column and probably strengthens her hand for planned third-term initiatives.

In New York City, meanwhile, it was very clear that the past 20 years of conservatism under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg are coming to a sudden end.  Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who made it very clear through the campaign that he would stop the police department’s controversial stop-and frisk campaign, won a resounding victory.  His message: “Make no mistake, the people of this city have chosen a progressive path.”

Finally, although there weren’t any elections in Toronto this week, there are a lot of people who probably wish one had been scheduled.  We did have some unique messaging nevertheless.  Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally admitted that he had smoked crack cocaine, adding that it occurred “in one of my drunken stupors.”

Equally interesting was his comment associated with the fact he wants to get the video from the police so he determine what exactly took place.

“I want to see what state I was in,” he said.

Well, actually, mayor, your message is a bit off.  It wasn’t a state.  It was a province.

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