Last month Chris Christie barely broke a sweat trouncing lightweight Barbara Buono in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election. According to conventional wisdom, the next item on his menu for global domination is winning the 2016 Republican nomination for president.
The speculation by pundits is split on Christie’s chances for victory. “U.S. Conservative Politics” says “Christie is probably the closest thing there is a sure bet to a presidential contender as there is.” Other prophets –particularly hopefuls like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and the Ricks (Perry and Santorum) — point to way-too-blue chinks in the Governor’s armor. On ABC’s This Week, Perry sniped, “Is a conservative in New Jersey a conservative in the rest of the country?” During a Fox News interview Rand Paul allowed that Christie may be a conservative, but only “if you have a very loose definition of the term.”
My own view is that Christie is unlikely to prevail in a GOP primary and it all comes down to the Common Core State Standards, the new set of standardized education goals adopted by 45 states which intend to ratchet up student achievement and modernize instruction and assessment. Christie has too clear a record and too loose a mouth to betray a deeply-felt commitment to improving academic outcomes for poor urban kids.
Okay, I’ll cotton on to the fact that the odds of Christie’s political ascendency can’t be entirely reduced to his long record of advocacy for the Common Core (or ObamaCore to some critics).
But Christie is stuck in the unenviable position of having to endear himself to a national Republican leadership that tilts evermore towards a Tea Party brew of irascible defiance towards anything perceived as “governmental interference.” (While the Common Core was overseen by the nonpartisan Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, the standards are widely, if incorrectly, regarded as a federal initiative.)
How does Christie remake himself into an icon of the far-right given his long record as a dyed-in-the-wool education reformer and Common Core advocate?
Cynics suggest — perhaps correctly — that Christie’s transformation into a candidate palatable to the GOP leadership will follow the pattern of his recent flip-flop on a bill that would grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants.
But that’s an easier alchemy than a shift in his stance on the Common Core, which is currently the focus of growing disdain from Republicans, not to mention a righteous corps of suburban parents who resent infringements on local control.
At a recent charter school conference in Las Vegas, Christie told the audience, “We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue. And, this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the President than not. And with [U.S. Ed.] Secretary Duncan.” He added an aside that has been widely publicized: “I think part of the Republican opposition you see in some corners in Congress is a reaction, that knee-jerk reaction that is happening in Washington right now, that if the President likes something the Republicans in Congress don’t. If the Republicans in Congress like something, the President doesn’t.”
Back at the farm, twelve New Jersey GOP state senators just sent a letter to N.J. Education Commissioner Chris Cerf questioning N.J.’s implementation of the Common Core. Further afield, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution rejecting the standards, calling them an “inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children” an interference with “State and local control of public schools,” and “a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.”
This rebellion against the Common Core will eventually fade, but probably not in the next year or two. It’s the GOP leadership’s loss, but it’s also Christie’s.
Laura Waters is president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County. She also writes about New Jersey’s public education on her blog NJ Left Behind. Follow her on Twitter @NJLeftbehind.
U.S. Conservative Politics: http://usconservatives.about.com/od/campaignselections/a/The-Case-For-Chris-Christie-In-2016.htm