Chris Christie's Iowa makeover: NJ gov goes full heartland culture warrior

Chris Christie, business establishment Republican, is going down a dangerous path to compete in Iowa

By Jim Newell
Published February 3, 2015 1:30PM (EST)
Chris Christie                                    (AP/Matt Rourke)
Chris Christie (AP/Matt Rourke)

What is the point of a Chris Christie who has been fully Iowa-ized? That might be a good question for Chris Christie and his team to consider as the presidential race gets underway. More than any of his potential competitors in the "establishment" bracket, Christie is devoted to winning Iowa and seems prepared to perform all the cultural circus acts that that entails. Such as this timely riff about vaccinations. Ignore his hedging. When it comes to the anti-vaxxing cause, ambiguity equals endorsement. This isn't the first time he's dabbled with such paranoid junk science, either.

Chris Christie is becoming a right-wing culture warrior, or at least bringing to the forefront whatever latent right-wing culture warrior instincts he possesses for maximal exposure. It's not such a "strategy" for Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee and other social conservative movementarians. They naturally slide right into the craziness when they make the decision to get out of bed each morning.

But Chris Christie is not a natural social conservative movementarian. His base of support is coastal Republicans who like him for yelling at unionized teachers and slashing pensions -- as well as telling off conservative cultural warriors who so deflate the party's national prospects. Busting unions was what first endeared Christie to business Republicans, and "I'm tired of dealing with the crazies" iced the relationship. It would be logical for such a candidate to focus his presidential fortunes on the New Hampshire-Florida circuit.

But for whatever reason, he's all about doing the Iowa thing. His lips have been firmly affixed to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's ass for some time. He will torture as many pigs as it takes to lock up the support of Iowa agribusiness.

He will do things like attend Steve King's Iowa Freedom Summit. When he gets there he will go out of his way to flatter Rep. Steve King, a clown person who, by nature of being born in Iowa, maintains unfortunate political leverage. That means accepting King's brand of staunch anti-immigration politics at the expense of his would-be general election campaign. Christie had been coy about immigration for most of 2014. Even if that make for some awkward sound bites, it was wise in the long term. But that's going to have to change. There's no room for that in the Iowa Republican caucuses with Steve King sitting on the judges' panel.

Chris Christie will talk a lot about abortion now. It seemed like half of his Freedom Summit speech was about how much he hates abortion. Well, good for him -- every other Republican candidate is really pro-life, too. But not every other Republican candidate was pro-choice until the 1990s.

Now he's getting involved with the anti-vaccination set, as much as he denies he is. There's an immediate upside to this for him, which if he hasn't found it yet, he will soon. As he'll spin it, the whole mainstream media got on his case when he stood up for the right of parents to choose what's best for their children! Oh, social conservatives will love it. They'll love it, too, when he swiftly transitions from that to the right of parents to home-school their children in the curriculum of Jesus and Ronald Reagan riding dinosaurs together.

It's just not a solid long-term look, though. Walk a few more paces down this path, and Standing Up For Parents' Rights becomes Michele Bachmann spreading rumors about how vaccinations cause mental retardation. At that point, the Iowa conservatives who cheered you into that position may become the shrewd Iowa screeners who determine that you're too fringey to compete against the Democratic nominee. And then you're left with what?

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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