Monday, June 3, 2013

Why Christie should let the voters pick Frank Lautenberg's successor

In the aftermath of Senator Lautenberg's death, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faces tough a political situation- Christie must decide on a successor to fill Lautenberg's seat.

For a start, Christie must balance two competing political objectives - this year's New Jersey Gubernatorial election and the 2016 GOP primaries. Regarding the 2016 concern, Christie is likely to face conservative pressure to pick a Republican replacement for Lautenberg - until a special election takes place later this year/early next. On the flip side, picking a Republican replacement would obviously infuriate Democrats who'd believe that Christie was stealing the seat. Instead, Democrats will want the appointment of a liberal Democrat in the form of Lautenberg.

This might appear to be a catch 22, but I think Christie has a way out - he should avoid picking anyone.

By waiting for the special election, Christie would place succession authority firmly in the hands of... you guessed it... voters. It would allow Christie to avoid serious political damage in terms of this year's  election. At the same time, it would also strengthen his brand appeal with Republican primary voters. Many observers think that Christie's willingness to work with Democrats/friendliness with President Obama are negatives re-2016 primaries. To some degree this is true - Christie will face attacks for his bi-partisanship. But Christie's unconventional status inside the GOP is also an asset. Come 2016, Republicans will be desperate to win the election. Desperate. In this sense, Christie's  great 2016 advantage will be his legitimate ability to sell GOP primary voters with his general election prospects. IE - 'Vote for me, because Americans like me and they'll vote for me over Clinton.' Ultimately, Christie's main appeal with Republicans has always been his straight talking style and strong record. Yet, if Christie attempts to placate conservative hardliners in 2016, he won't win the primaries. Those voters have already ruled out voting for Christie - he can't win them over and he shouldn't try. Instead, he should focus on building his brand.

Finally, in addition to fulfilling his political needs, pushing this decision to the voters would also serve a moral interest - avoiding a toxic power mechanism that often reeks of favors/corruption.

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