In the days since unveiling his first state budget Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie has heard some long-awaited plaudits from his conservative base.
As a Republican who beat an incumbent Democratic governor last November, Christie enjoyed the national distinction of seizing one of two high-profile governors’ seats for his party. But since he entered office in January, many Republicans and conservative activists have held off assessing Christie’s conservative credentials until they saw how he tackled state finances.
On Tuesday, Christie proposed a $29.3 billion budget plan that requires layoffs and slashes spending and aid to schools and local governments. On Wednesday, Christie took his budget message to the national airwaves, appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and Bloomberg television to explain his plan to close what he called a “Grand Canyon” budget gap, a $10.7 billion deficit.
And by Thursday, conservative voices — many of them also from out of state — had broken their silence. And they approved.
Editorial writers at the New York Post’s right-leaning opinion pages hailed Christie’s “aggressive leadership.” The Wall Street Journal on Saturday said he deserves “special applause.”
At Reason, the libertarian online magazine, Leonard Gilroy focused on Christie’s plan to privatize some government operations to find savings, giving him “major kudos.”
And closer to home, William Hughes, a Camden County-based blogger who is not related to the former Democratic congressman of the same name, argued Thursday that Christie’s actions bolstered his short track record as a fiscal conservative. By taking action on the current year’s budget, Hughes said this week,Christie had saved the state about “$9 million per hour since taking office.”
Christie’s first weeks in office weren’t met with that level of conservative acclaim: Despite issuing a series of hard-hitting executive orders designed to halt the growth of state regulation, Christie heard from critics on the right who found his selection of cabinet nominees didn’t fit with Republican orthodox views.
Critics grumbled about his appointment of two Democrats — Attorney General Paula Dow and Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher — and an acting health and senior services commissioner, Dr. Poonam Alaigh, who would not denounce President Barack Obama’s plan for health care reform.
“Republicans have this terrible compulsion, especially once they’re in office, to constantly argue about who’s more conservative than who,” said Carl Golden, a longtime Republican strategist. “I’m never sure what that gets you.”
On Wednesday, Christie greeted the prospect of protests with a typically sarcastic response: To a laundry-list of quotes from suburban mayors as well as public worker union heads recited on CNBC, he replied, “Things are going well.”
But Golden thinks Christie would be wise not to listen too hard to eager praise or fierce criticism. “The governor should come into office as a problem-solver and address problems as he finds them,” he said.
Golden warns that Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the state’s last Republican governor, experienced the same early adulation. But out-of-state praise, he warned, comes from those who won’t have to suffer the impact of the new budget.
“The harder part comes later in the year, when Christie’s budget cuts are felt. His education cuts, in particular, hit the suburbs hard, which traditionally lean Republican,” he said. “When there’s blame for the pain, I expect he’ll have to be ready for less adoration.”
That internal conflict among voters on the right has already appeared, said Harry Hurley, a talk-radio host on WIBG-AM 1020 in Atlantic County.
Hurley, who calls himself a Christie supporter, still admits that many callers to his show have wondered what will happen to Christie’s support when local services start to shrink under municipal-aid cuts.
“What about when the trash doesn’t get picked up, or schools are facing the pain?” Hurley said. “That’s when we have to realize, the medicine tastes bitter because the patient is sick.”
As conservatives at the national level have praised Christie, his opponents have made references to national politics of the recent past. “Basically Bush politics,” came one comment from Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, D-Camden.
And some local conservatives have seen Christie’s budget not as a strength but as a weakness: The libertarian group, Americans for Prosperity, led by Steve Lonegan, Christie’s opponent for the Republican nomination, announced this week that they would release their own alternative budget in two weeks.
But as Christie’s message receives national play, complaints at the local level may be drowned out.
“Based on that budget speech, and the way he’s explained it, I’d expect to hear Christie giving the Republican response to President Obama’s weekly radio address very soon,” Hurley said.
“If Chris Christie pulls this off,” wrote one poster at conservative blog RedState.com, “he won’t be able to run (for) president: New Jersey Republicans will guard the border with sticks in order to keep that from happening.”
Golden, again, urges caution: “He’s been in power for two months. Don’t you think that kind of talk is a little premature?”
What conservative voices are saying about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
Wall Street Journal, Review and Outlook:
“(Christie) is not talking about phony Washington-style ‘cuts’ against a baseline that automatically increases each year. The governor is asking Trenton to spend $2.9 billion less in 2011 than it did in 2009, shrinking the budget to $29.3 billion, which he admits will be ‘painful, but what other choice do we have?’... Mr. Christie deserves special applause for his willingness to battle government employee unions.”
New York Post, editorial:
“(New York Gov. David) Paterson took office two years ago yesterday and has yet to show an iota of leadership — unlike New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, at the helm just 55 days and already dragging the state out of the fiscal pit.”
Steve Forbes, in a ‘Fact and Comment’ essay on Forbes.com, ahead of Tuesday’s budget address:
“New Jersey, my home state, is taking the lead on responsible fiscal policy, thanks to its new governor, Chris Christie. … But the governor made it clear that ever more drastic surgery is needed in next year's budget, which he will submit this month. The howls will then be truly deafening.”
“Gov. Christie is absolutely spot-on in seeking out every sensible opportunity to put the private sector to work in the business of serving the public interest.”
Harry Hurley, WIBG-AM 1020:
“Based on that budget speech, and the way he’s explained it, I’d expect to hear Christie giving the Republican response to President Obama’s weekly radio address very soon.”
Contact Juliet Fletcher: