Governor Christie has abruptly lost the support the conservatives–if he ever had it. Most hardcore conservatives outside New Jersey have long dubbed him a Republican In Name Only. Many now feel he has betrayed their values; his support on the national stage has dropped.
Of course, he is not presently competing on the national stage. He is competing in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race against progressive Democrat Barbara Buono. She claims he is going to run for President in 2016, but he has said no more than that he has no idea what will happen in two years. Courting favor with the conservative branch of the party has not been his priority. That The National Organization for Marriage and The Manhattan Declaration and other traditional marriage groups have attacked him over the past weeks might matter in some election in which he is not presently a candidate, but it is not going to matter in New Jersey–where what he did makes political sense on so many levels, and the alternative, what they would have had him do, made no sense at all.
What happened? A New Jersey Superior Court judge decided that the recent United States Supreme Court decisions regarding homosexual marriage (United States v. Windsor striking down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, in which they declined to review the lower court decision overturning California’s Proposition 8) required New Jersey to permit homosexuals, already permitted “civil unions”, to marry. Governor Christie has long opposed any law to that effect, insisting that it should be decided by referendum; his administration appealed to the State Supreme Court to overturn the ruling and issue a temporary injunction to prevent the confusion of marriage licenses being issued and then invalidated.
The State Supreme Court refused to issue the injunction, and indicated that they would hear the appeal but were already unanimously in agreement with the lower court. In essence, they told the governor he could spend all the state’s money he wanted and waste the time of the Attorney General’s office, but they had already decided. So the question was whether to fight the losing battle to see the principle defeated, or withdraw the appeal and address other issues. Christie chose the latter. Those who thought he should go down fighting call it cowardice and a failure of leadership. Yet what is the real situation on the ground?
Homosexual marriage was perhaps the one cogent issue in Buono’s attacks on Christie. She has always favored it, and criticized him for opposing it. Her own daughter is a lesbian, and has pushed the issue forward. That issue is now gone–it is settled, and nothing can be done from the governor’s office to change it either way. Buono has lost that weapon, and those who were supporting her for that reason will now consider whether they have any other reason to support a candidate so liberal she chose a public employee union boss as her running mate. New Jersey now has homosexual marriages; the rulings and statements of its high court had indicated that they would begin on schedule regardless of the lawsuit and ultimately would be supported by the judiciary, so that would not have changed.
Had Christie fought, it probably would not have cost him the election; he is far enough ahead in the polls and already did not have the homosexual vote. Yet it would have given Buono more power, because she could have said that were she elected she would drop the appeal and allow homosexual marriages to proceed. Christie is riding a strong tide toward re-election, and that kind of victory may well give him something of a political mandate, to accomplish other goals; there is no good reason to sacrifice that strength of position for a lost cause. He would have lost the appeal, but whether he won or lost, he would have set up yet another case which might go to the United States Supreme Court, whose borderline liberal position on this issue might then decree that civil unions were unconstitutional and any state which used them would have to allow homosexual marriage–a loss for the conservative cause that is here avoided by preventing the case from continuing.
The pundits say that this will cost Christie the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. He has not asked for it yet, not indicated any intent to seek it. Yet if it is true that the Republican party will not nominate a man whose strong conservative opinions are tempered by moderate compromising political practices, then it probably does not matter who the Republicans nominate in 2016. Only a moderate Republican can win the nation for them at this point; if they cannot nominate a moderate, they cannot win.