Whoever triumphs in Tuesday’s presidential election — Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — the one sure winner in my estimation is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The rotund, irrepressibly charismatic Republican, who often resembles a Mack truck both in size and the way he crashes through the usual roadblocks other potential national candidates avoid, has put the welfare of those who elected him above partisan considerations. It’s a rare act of political courage.
Faced with the horrendous task of putting his state back together again after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, Christie came out singing the praises of his Republican Party’s chief nemesis. The president, he let the world know, has been of paramount help in the dark days of the perfect storm, the brunt of which was taken by Christie’s beloved Jersey Shore.
Forget the election, Christie announced. At this stage, he couldn’t care less. The only thing that mattered to him, he said, was the quick response of the Oval Office’s current occupant, who, at least for the time being, has become his new best friend. Christie walked through the wreckage almost arm in arm with the nation’s chief executive, both of them offering solace to victims.
Who can blame him? That remains to be seen.
Christie burst on the scene as a bigger-than-life, free-wheeling moderate who many saw at one time as the best hope of defeating Obama but who made it clear he wasn’t interested in running, at least this time. He resisted totally the siren call of bigger things, supporting Romney and bringing humor and good will to the presidential campaign. His possible aspirations for a prolonged stay on Pennsylvania Avenue were put on hold, perhaps as soon as 2016, if Romney loses.
There are those in GOP circles who are likely to reflect on Christie’s ebullience over Obama’s contribution to New Jersey’s welfare and find it over the top, just a little too passionate even for the irrepressible Christie. That will be a near certainty if Romney falls short on Tuesday.
Politicians have long memories, and what might be regarded as an act of statesmanship by Christie could develop into its own storm for him during what would be an all-out scramble for the GOP nomination four years from now. That is, if he’s interested. By then, the forgiveness available under the current circumstances might not be so easy to maintain.
Presently, however, Republicans who might find his praise of the president a bit too much are saying little, given the scale of the tragedy that has befallen New Jersey and a huge swath of the East Coast. There seems to be a good measure of benevolence, for a change.
Obama has returned the favor, being as flatteringly apolitical as Christie was to him but clearly basking in the nonpartisan warmth. “I want to just let you know that your governor is working overtime to make sure that, as soon as possible, everybody can get back to normal,” he was quoted as assuring the state’s beleaguered citizens.
It would be easy to label all this as political theater, but it clearly isn’t. The governor is faced with a monumental task, and he knows that the victims he represents aren’t interested in anything but reassurance. He is doing his job. I recalled the way that Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a solid Republican conservative, opened his arms to President Bill Clinton after the 1995 terrorist bombing that killed 168 men, women and children in his state.
Even the hardest of political foes come together at times like these. It has been a pleasure to put aside my cynicism for at least a moment and view Christie’s actions as not only appropriate but also as a hope of better things to come in the war between the parties.
Dan K. Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.