Chris Christie might have been thinking about his own re-election prospects when he vetoed New Jersey’s gay marriage bill last Friday. A Rutgers poll had shown that 54 percent of his constituents support gay marriage, but want a referendum on it.
Or he might have been thinking about a presidential bid. If he goes for the GOP nod in 2016, he’ll have to shake off the RINO stigma after having endorsed both Delaware’s Mike Castle and Mitt Romney. He might have thought that a nod to the social cons would at least help to inoculate him against the inevitable “Christie is a Yankee moderate” meme.
But whatever Chris Christie was thinking, he thought wrong.
For one thing, it’s his first big lapse in leadership. We have a Congress right now that hasn’t passed a budget since 2009 and can’t manage to cut spending lest it be held accountable. Christie’s never had that problem up to now.
When the government denied New Jersey’s bid for Race to the Top funding because of one missing page out of a thousand-page application, for instance, he took responsibility for that mistake and held a press conference to highlight Washington’s bureaucratic absurdity. That’s leadership. Punting on a hot topic whose outcome is inevitable, whether he likes it or not, isn’t. That’s what Washington does—and people hate it.
It might not help him a lot with Republicans either. That seems unthinkable now that Rick Santorum’s surging, but the GOP is changing: Ted Olson, George W. Bush’s lead counsel in Bush v. Gore, spearheaded the legal effort to overturn California's Proposition 8. Former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman came out himself in 2010. And Dick Cheney, Vice President when George W. Bush floated a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in 2004, reportedly lobbied Maryland lawmakers recently to legalize it.
The GOP’s 2016 nominee might oppose gay marriage, but he’ll be the last one to. (Santorum will lose, BTW, either to Romney or to Obama.)
I like Christie a lot. I’d take him over all the other GOP presidential candidates. And I’m with Bill Kristol: he should run at some point—literally and figuratively, actually. But he might have been right when he told ABC last spring that he’s “not ready” to be president. We already have one who likes to “lead from behind.” The last thing we need is another.