Republican presidential hopefuls are worried about Chris Christie.
The governor barely had time to take a victory lap before potential 2016 contenders rushed to downplay his crushing re-election victory Tuesday night, taking veiled — but unmistakable — swipes at the pugnacious New Jerseyan while “congratulating” him.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) managed to insert three backhanded punches in three short sentences.
“I think it is terrific that he is brash, that he is outspoken and that he won his race,” Cruz told ABC News. “But I think we need more leaders in Washington with the courage to stand for principle. And in particular, Obamacare is not working.”
Translation: nice victory, blowhard, but true conservatives don’t care for squishes who like to compromise. Also, you embraced Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion; let’s see how that works out for ya in the Republican primary.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) emphasized — thrice — that Christie won in deep-blue New Jersey and cautioned that his re-election rout is irrelevant to future contests.
“I think we need to understand that some of these races don’t apply to future races,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told CNN. “Every race is different — it has a different set of factors — but I congratulate [Christie] on his win. … Governor Christie has certainly shown he has a way of winning in New Jersey, in states like New Jersey… so I congratulate him on that.”
Translation: nice victory you got there. Try replicating it with a conservative electorate.
Cruz and Rubio were hardly alone in rushing to puncture the brewing narrative of Christie as a dominant, stand-out figure whose bipartisan appeal might be the antidote to an ailing — and wildly unpopular — Republican Party when presidential election season comes back around.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has publicly feuded with the governor, twice called him a “moderate” — a label that is generally deployed as an insult when used by conservatives, and one which Christie has rejected — and said the GOP is “more conservative” than he is.
“I think the Republican Party is a big party, and we need moderates like Chris Christie who can win in New Jersey in our party,” Paul said on CNN. “[W]e do need moderates like Chris Christie in the party. … I think the party in general is more conservative.”
Translation: congrats on winning in liberal New Jersey, but your shtick ain’t gonna work here in the heartland. I’m sure there’s a place for you somewhere in the party, though!
When all the votes were counted, Christie won more than 60 percent of the electorate against the woefully underfunded Barbara Buono, whom the Democratic Party had largely abandoned. Pundits and cable news prognosticators were awed by a Republican’s landslide victory in a Democratic stronghold, speculating that Christie may by the GOP’s great white hope in 2016.
The governor, for his part, wasn’t above taking jabs at his White House-aspiring colleagues in Congress, chiding unnamed Republicans whom he said care “more about winning the argument than they care about winning elections” — an apparent shot at the tea party lawmakers who spurred the government shutdown last month.
“Maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune in their TVs right now,” Christie said in his victory speech, to raucous applause. “See how it’s done.”