I am often asked by fellow conservatives about my experience with Governor Chris Christie as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey in 2014. When I reply that Gov. Christie and his team, after remaining scrupulously neutral during a tightly contested four-way primary, were very helpful to my campaign in terms of fund-raising and party unity, doing all that could reasonably be expected in my uphill general election campaign against Sen. Cory Booker, the predominant reaction is surprise verging in some cases on disbelief.
No doubt some of the surprise traces to the unusual circumstances of my Senate race. In February 2014, I returned to New Jersey at the age of 70 after spending the previous 32 years as a resident of northern Virginia, rented an apartment in my previous hometown of Leonia in northeastern New Jersey, and announced I was running against Sen. Booker as an opponent of the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy and as an advocate of returning the United States to the gold standard. (I did this because after four frustrating years working full time on monetary policy at the American Principles Project, it hit me that if I didn’t try to introduce Fed policy and gold into political debate, no one else would.)
In addition to the solid help I received from the governor in his role as leader of the New Jersey Republican party, I needed one other important thing: a decision by him not to attack or question my support for the gold standard. I knew it would be asking too much to have him endorse a position not a single Republican officeholder or candidate in national or congressional politics shared at the time, but it would be devastating to my effort to elevate the issue if the state’s top Republican vote-getter of recent decades were to criticize or speak dismissively of it.
True to my request, he didn’t. When Sen. Booker announced he would agree to only one debate—a sharp contrast to the 21 debates I had as the underdog Republican nominee against Bill Bradley in my 1978 race—he backed me in arguing that that wasn’t nearly enough. In the end I lost to Booker 55.8 to 42.3 percent, not very different from my loss to Bradley 36 years earlier, but nothing Gov. Christie or his team did contributed in any way to my defeat.
Christie is the most conservative governor New Jersey has had since Alfred Driscoll left office more than 60 years ago. This is not the place to evaluate, item by item, the pluses and minuses of his six-plus years in office, or to attempt an explanation of why Christie as governor has been so much more conservative than he was as a moderate-to-liberal elected official in Morris County in the 1990s.
But in a state that has become one of the most heavily taxed in the nation, Christie has vetoed dozens of tax increases passed by the relentlessly liberal Democratic legislature, including a stiff temporary income surtax imposed by Gov. Jon Corzine that Christie’s veto caused to expire, and in his first term he even managed to negotiate a number of sizable tax cuts with Democratic legislators. New Jersey’s economy has not regained the dynamism it had for much of the state’s history, but the unemployment rate has declined to 4.4 percent—more than half a percentage point below the national rate—from a high of 9.8 percent in January 2010, the month Christie took office.
Donald Trump has said he is open to choosing his running mate from among his former primary opponents. Among these in addition to Christie are several with impeccable conservative records. In evaluating them, or for that matter other potential vice presidents, I believe conservatives need to weigh not just past track records, but the willingness of our leaders to absorb political and media attacks without changing course in a manner that would betray the voters who elected them.
In recent years the left has perfected the most effective technique I have ever witnessed in half a century of doing and observing American politics. It is shaming.
Jeff Bell is the Policy Director of the American Principles Project.