Gov. Chris Christie disappointed some Republicans by laying to rest any hope that he might pursue the presidency in 2012. Remaining (relieved) GOP candidates should consider why so many voters seemed desperate for Christie to enter the fray. After all, it wasn't the man himself, but his reputation for tackling big problems head on and calling out government waste and corruption, that had voters swooning. This is a mantel that other conservatives can embrace and carry.
Dissatisfaction with the political class is near an all time high. President Obama's historic 2008 election was fueled by sweeping, unspecific, promises of change and hope and better days ahead. The reality of his Administration inevitably was going to fall short of this utopian vision. But the proceeding years have been far worse than just the typical disappointment. Obama ushered in business-as-usual Washington except more so, with bigger political payoffs, far bigger deficits, misplaced policy priorities, and a historically-bad economy.
Voters are not just disgusted. They are jaded. They don't want to hear about the great promise of tomorrow or how the best days are just around the corner. They've heard that too many times before. They don't want to hear about the latest blue ribbon commission or watch another press conference touting the biggest spending cuts in history, which turn out to be an illusion.
Governor Christie's appeal is that he doesn't look or sound like a politician. After an endless parade of coiffed, toned, politicians with perfect pant creases and carefully color-coded ensembles, there's something authentic and trustworthy about an over-weight man who hasn't bothered to remake his physical appearance to match the Washington mold. Governor Christie's famed plain speech and willingness to aggressively answer questioners is a startling contrast to what we've come to expect from politicians at the podium.
Simply put, he doesn't sound like he's lying to us. The sad truth is that our increasingly cynical populace doesn't believe just about anything even the most earnest politicians say anymore.
Americans know our problems are real. Democrats may imagine that they can go back to the well of carefully-crafted attack ads scaring seniors that if they vote the wrong way, their Medicare and Social Security benefits will disappear. It's not going to work. Those in retirement or nearing retirement know that it's not the political class but cold-hard economic reality-an anemic economy, dramatically shifting population demographics, and exploding health care costs-that threaten those programs. They know the status quo isn't an option for the next generation, and want to hear what the real options are. They don't want to be manipulated as an interest group, but treated like adults.
Christie has a reputation for taking big problems head on and not shying away from uncomfortable topics. He tells public schools teachers and firemen why their benefits are too high. Americans want that. They know we can't afford more pandering to unions and seniors. We've already promised them more than we can possibly pay for. Americans want a real conversation about our deficits, entitlement programs, and the disconnect between our public and private sectors.
Voters believed that Christie would give that to them and force a much needed reality check on the direction of the country. His very reluctance to run was appealing: He isn't lusting for power, which suggested that if he actually was in power, perhaps he would truly try to return some of that power to the people.
The rest of the GOP slate-and President Obama-can learn something from the Christie phenomenon. Many Americans want an honest man who promises to speak truthfully about the challenges that we face, not kowtow to entrenched political interests. They want a candidate who will roll back Washington's worst excesses. It's a mantle that another candidate could pick up if he or she is willing.