A history of hugs: Chris Christie gives future GOP rivals fodder

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Chris Christie might have improved his odds of being re-elected New Jersey’s governor next year, but he probably made it less likely he will ever reside in the White House.

After all, his most likely opponent is Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a man known for handling emergency situations, himself. One suspects Booker is less likely to challenge Christie today than he might have been, say, a week ago.

But if Christie helped himself in New Jersey, he might have doomed his future presidential ambitions with his effusive praise of President Obama. As Rush Limbaugh joked Wednesday, “Is it wrong for one man to love another man? But that man-love out there is isolated in the state of New Jersey.”

What a difference an embrace makes.

Just last year, many conservatives (including Ann Coulter) were clamoring for him to run for president in 2012. But if Romney loses (and Christie  now better hope he doesn’t), Christie would have much stiffer competition (Rubio, Jindal, Pence, Ryan, et al.) should he seek the presidential nomination in 2016.

Should Obama win on Tuesday, Christie would surely be tagged for at least contributing to Romney’s defeat. What is more, there are plenty of videos, tweets, and photos that Christie’s Republican rivals can now pull out when necessary to remind us of what happened.

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Christie has never been completely trusted by conservatives. He has largely been given a pass on his unorthodox positions because of the fact that a). conservatives conflate toughness with ideological purity, and b). because New Jersey is a tough state.

But the gloves would come off in a Republican primary, and past positions, coupled with the optics of the Obama embrace, would pose a formidable challenge.

Of course, Christie wouldn’t be the first politician to be burned by embracing an unpopular president of an opposing party.

During a 2006 Democratic primary election, Ned Lamont used “The Kiss” against Sen. Joe Lieberman.

As Trish Regan reported, “That message has propelled Lamont to a six-point lead in the polls. His campaign has used images like this now infamous kiss and television ads.”

The most recent candidate to get burned by the hug was former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. As Sunshine State News reported: “The campaign for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, portrayed the hug as more than a courtesy greeting, painting the embrace as support for the $767 billion in deficit spending”

Make no mistake, this will be an issue if Christie attempts to run nationally. Remember how hard it was for Rick Santorum to overcome his endorsement of Arlen Specter? (Yeah, that was just a senate seat.)

Christie may have hurt his chances to make it to the White House, but he did achieve one lifelong dream. During a Halloween show, Bruce Springsteen had praise for “the police officers, the firemen, and also to the Governor, who has done such a hard job this past week.”

He finally got the approval he’s been craving.

Matt K. Lewis