Getting reelected with 60 percent of the vote in a blue state wasn't going to get New Jersey governor Chris Christie any thanks or praise from fellow Republicans, and he knew it. So the morning after, he gave them the "Jersey treatment," rubbing it in their faces.
After winning 51 percent of the Latino vote, Christie held court with the national press, boasting he had built the relationships and the trust in Latino communities that Republicans have been unable to build as a national party. He asked rhetorically, "Now find another Republican in America who's won the Latino vote recently." Then said, "When you come just six months before an election, people are going to be like, 'Where have you been? And why should I trust you? This other guy over here he's been here for years.'"
It didn't take months, or even weeks, after his expected reelection for things to get prickly with Christie, now an official 2016 contender. He is speaking so much like a future candidate his potential rivals wouldn't give even one day of honeymoon. When asked directly by NBC's Chuck Todd whether Christie was conservative enough to win the GOP nomination, GOP governor Rick Perry of Texas not only refused to answer the question, he wouldn't even say Christie's name.
It was the same with other Republican presidential wannabes, who belittled or dismissed Christie's smashing victory among women, minorities, and Democrats. Kentucky senator Rand Paul called Christie a "moderate," while Florida senator Marco Rubio told CNN that all elections are different and that "some of these races don't apply to future races." Though Rubio offered his congratulations to Christie, he said the governor had spoken "to the hopes and aspirations of people within New Jersey." Key word: "within." Texas senator Ted Cruz said he appreciated that Christie is "brash, that he is outspoken and that he won his race," but when asked whether Christie is truly conservative, Cruz walked off without answering.
Christie confidants are already telling the press the governor is seriously prepping to be a candidate for the GOP nomination and that Republican donors across the country are begging him to run — again. For many establishment Republicans, or those not aligned with the Tea Party, Christie represents the only hope of winning the White House, because they see him as the only candidate who could defeat Hillary Clinton. He can — unless someone like former Florida governor Jeb Bush enters the race — expect to run on his electability and appeal among general election voters as a problem solver with a record, while other more conservative candidates paint the governing wing of the party as sellouts.
As candidates begin quietly jostling for support among consultants, elected officials, donors, and interest groups, it appears Christie could soon take up valuable space Rubio had once hoped to occupy on the left of Tea Party candidates like Cruz and Paul. After all, he made a high-risk choice to take a beating from conservatives for leading on immigration reform, which he has since retreated from. To move back to the right, Rubio backed the failed "defund" movement Cruz led, which resulted in an unpopular government shutdown that tainted the GOP as a whole but didn't defund Obamacare. Rubio wants to be seen as a fresh new leader, but, now stained by the gridlock in Washington, he will find Christie arguing that no leadership is emerging from the nation's capital, while governors like himself are bringing solutions and changes to the country for the better.
Rubio said the key message from last week's gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, where GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli lost his gubernatorial bid, was that it's necessary "to abandon the politics of big government and embrace free enterprise and limited government." Rubio said Cuccinelli had made that argument in Virginia while Christie had "tried to make it" in New Jersey, and he declared that on a national level "that's a winning argument no matter who our nominee is in 2016 and certainly for our candidates running in 2014."
Should he run, Christie will certainly make that argument. To potential candidates like Rubio, it's the other arguments he makes that will be the problem.
A.B. Stoddard is a columnist and editor at The Hill newspaper.