New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie prides himself on saying things other politicians don’t have the cojones to share with the public: calling teachers unions “thugs” and his Democratic opponents “jerks,” for instance. In his latest candid moment with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he laid bare his party’s voter-suppression agenda – or rather, its crusade to make sure Republican governors control the “voting mechanism” of every state possible, in order to regain the White House in 2016.
“Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist?” he asked. “Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?” he asked.
“The fact is it doesn’t matter if you don’t really care what happens in these states, you’re going to care about who is running the state in November of 2016, what kind of political apparatus they’ve set up and what kind of governmental apparatus they’ve set up to ensure a full and fair election in 2016,” he said. “All of those things are incredibly important.”
There are so many things wrong with Christie’s confession. First, of course, is the assumption that Democrats don’t want and thus can’t preside over “a full and fair election.” He’s of course alluding to the non-problem of voter fraud, which 7th District Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner last month called “essentially nonexistent.” In fact, Christie’s description of the importance of Republicans controlling the “voter mechanism” echoes Posner’s – except Posner was excoriating Republicans, not praising them.
There are indeed correlations between Republican governors and the “voting mechanism,” the conservative judge found. Specifically, new voter identification laws are “highly correlated with a state’s having a Republican governor and Republican control of the legislature.” Unfortunately, Posner went on to say, "such laws appear to be aimed at limiting voting by minorities, particularly blacks.” He continued: “There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.”
Oh. Well, Christie didn’t mean to say that.
It’s also fascinating to see Christie take for granted that the Chamber supports the GOP’s voter-restriction agenda. It's one thing to tell the Chamber you're going to keep tax rates low or block a minimum wage hike, policy issues core to what the group considers a “pro-business” agenda. But last time I checked, the Chamber at least pretended to be non-partisan. Christie wasn’t talking to the Koch-controlled Americans for Prosperity or the donors behind the Republican Governors Association, which he chairs.
Until now, the supposedly “moderate” Christie hasn’t been a crusader on voter ID laws, ducking questions on those laws passed by Republicans in other states. He did veto a bill that would have established early voting in New Jersey on the eve of his reelection bid, insisting it would be too costly – even as he authorized a very costly October special election the same year to fill Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat, expressly so Democratic voters heading to the polls to back Cory Booker wouldn’t be a threat in his own race.
One of Christie’s advantages in a presidential race was supposed to be his ability to win the votes of African-Americans and Latinos – he won 21 percent of New Jersey black voters and 51 percent of Latinos in 2013. He was supposed to be the guy who could help the GOP avoid demographic extinction, as its aging white base loses its hold on the American electorate. In fact, only a week ago he made that very pitch to a group of Republican donors in New York.
Now it looks like Christie thinks the road back to the White House for the GOP is the tried and true path of voter suppression. I never thought he was a different brand of Republican in the first place, but it’s good to see that he’s giving up the pretense entirely.