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The Christie for vice president boomlet: It starts now

I finally, years after I should have, finished one of the essential political biographies -- The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris. (His third and final book on TR hits later this year.) So I'm only now learning the background of events that basically everyone in politics knows. One of them is TR's tenure as a police commissioner for New York City. Appointed in 1895 after a Republican landslide, Roosevelt became a bullying, tenacious activist against patronage and alcohol. His national reputation grew as his reputation inside the city became more and more toxic. For the first time in his career, he received serious death threats and mail bombs. In the 1895 off-year elections, his party lost massively to Tammany Hall Democrats.

I bring this up because last week I pointed to a Quinnipiac poll which showed New Jersey more or less split on Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and split on whether he was a "bully" or a fighter for their interests. They opposed his spending cuts but approved of his pitched battles against the state's entrenched unions. All of this stood out because, outside of New Jersey, Christie is becoming a beloved conservative star. Talk to a plugged-in conservative activist and he'll rattle off the list of accomplishments -- changing the balance of the state Supreme Court, massive spending reductions, bringing Democrats on board with a salary cap for public employees, and -- oh yes -- endless YouTube videos of him dressing down his enemies.

Within New Jersey, this is going to be fairly unpopular as long as the economy is sluggish. Outside of New Jersey, it's making Christie the most visible, and visibly active, warrior against entrenched liberalism. For that reason I'd call Christie a clear frontrunner for the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nomination. Not the presidential nomination -- he'd have to start running in six or seven months, which would be ridiculous. But in two years, when the GOP's nominee starts looking to fill out his ticket, who will have more appeal to the base and a better record on issues that every conservative agrees with? Who will make them more confident about his (or her) ability to tear apart Vice President Joe Biden in a debate?

Christie's work in New Jersey is a fascinating story on its own, the most energetic challenge to the liberal consensus many of us can remember. Conservatives are noticing that. I think he's becoming the latest in a long line of local reformers to make enemies at home while becoming a hero to fellow-travelers in the rest of the country.

By David Weigel  |  June 22, 2010; 10:13 AM ET
Categories:  2012 Election  
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