Last November, Gov. Chris Christie announced that he will run for a second term. In late December, Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced that he will not run, leaving the Democrats without a strong candidate in this year's gubernatorial election and giving Christie a huge advantage over his likely opponent.
On paper, Christie has been doing everything right. He took on the powerful teachers unions and pushed through a reform package that the majority of the state views as fair and reasonable. As of February, his approval ratings steadily hovered over 70 percent, unheard of for a governor in this day and age, especially a Republican governor from a deep blue state like New Jersey.
Normally, one would think that the powers that be in the Republican Party would be thrilled at the governor's enormous accomplishments. Yet many on the far right fringes of the party have loudly criticized the governor, and he was even denied an invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year, despite hype that he may run for president in 2016.
This is not the way to treat a GOP star. The far right has criticized Christie for working with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy, claiming that this made him a traitor and that he was in fact a R.I.N.O. (Republican in Name Only). Frankly, these claims are absurd.
In working with Obama after a natural disaster, Christie showed true leadership, putting partisan bickering aside in favor of finding real solutions and actually serving his constituents in a responsible manner. This does not make the governor any less of a Republican, but rather a rarity in today's political environment: someone who actually does his job.
The Republican Party could learn a thing or two from Chris Christie and the other so-called R.I.N.O.s. In the far right's quest to "purify" the party, they nominated unelectable candidates and blew easy Senate races in Indiana and Missouri last fall, as well as in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada in the previous cycle. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine stepped down in 2012, refusing to run again because she did not want to serve in such a partisan environment and under threat of a Tea Party challenger. Had Snowe stayed in the race, the GOP could have held onto the seat.
There is a reason that the Republican Party gets such a bad reputation in blue states like New Jersey. It is so easy to spin something a far right politician says in another state and falsely tie the statement to every Republican in New Jersey. Yet through a stellar performance as a responsible, centrist Republican governor, Chris Christie has managed to avoid that stigma, with poll numbers around 50 percent approval ratings from Democrats.
This is not to say that the more conservative candidates are poor leaders. Sen. Marco Rubio has done a great job in his first term, and so has Sen. Tim Scott. But there are still the loud ones causing problems, such as former Congressman Todd Akin and former Indiana Treasurer Richard Murdock that give the GOP such a bad image among independents and more moderate voters.
The GOP needs to examine the evidence. How can Chris Christie have such a high approval rating in a state Obama won by 18 points if he isn't conservative enough for the powers that be? Perhaps it is that Christie isn't bowing down to the far right fringe of the party and is more in step with the vast majority of Republicans and Independents. The GOP needs more politicians like Chris Christie. Perhaps a strong re-election victory this fall will help show the donors and the power brokers that fact.