Less than 24 hours after the polls closed on election night Tuesday, the civil war within the Republican Party erupted – or at least the first skirmishes. Prominent Washington Tea Party right wingers sharpened their knives and went after fellow Republican Christ Christie, who had just been overwhelmingly re-elected governor in heavily Democratic New Jersey.
Christie, who received a congratulatory phone call from Democratic president Barack Obama, got under fire from potential intra-party rivals who see the 350-pound governor as the “elephant in the room” (Time Magazine), aka, the Republican frontrunner in the 2016 race for the White House.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is widely seen as Republicans’ “Hispanic hope” for 2016 outright downplayed Christie’s landslide re-election victory. “I think we need to understand that some of these (state) races don’t apply to future races,” Rubio said in an interview. “Every race is different. It has a different set of factors. But I congratulate (Christie) on his win.”
Christie has been a focal point of a deep ideological rift that has divided the Republican Party – between moderates like himself and more conservative tea party members. The governor has recently criticized tea party members of Congress, slamming the Washington gridlock that led to the government shutdown.
During his victory speech, Christie said Washington should take note of how he has worked with Democrats in New Jersey. “Maybe the folks in Washington, DC should tune in their TVs right now, see how it’s done,” he said.
These comments were instantly dismissed by Texas Senator and likely 2016 contender Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, considered by Democrats (and some Republican senators) as a political flame thrower.
“I think it is terrific that he is brash, that he is outspoken, and that he won his race,” Cruz said to reporters on Capitol Hill. “But I think we need more leaders in Washington with the courage to stand for principle” – meaning more tea party Republicans and less Christie Republicans. When asked whether Christie is a true conservative, Cruz walked away.
Conservatives’ dislike for Christie is deep-rooted. The governor was considered as a potential running mate by moderate Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign last year, but he has since fallen out of grace with many Republicans for praising President Obama after superstorm Sandy just days before the 2012 election.
With Sandy in mind, conservative Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian who is regularly at odds with the Republican Party establishment, reserved the weirdest, if not harshest attack on Christie.
During a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday on post-Sandy recovery efforts, Paul asked whether it was appropriate to use federal relief funds for television ads, a clear jab at Christie who starred in ads touting the Jersey Shore. “Some of these ads, people running for office put their mug all over these ads while they’re in the middle of a political campaign,” Paul said.
“In New Jersey, $25 million was spent on ads that included somebody running for political office. Do you think there might be a conflict of interest there?” “That’s a real problem. And that’s why when people who are trying to do good and trying to use taxpayers’ money wisely, they’re offended to see our money spent on political ads,” Paul continued. “That’s just offensive.”
With Republican friends like Rubio, Cruz and Paul, Christie doesn’t need Democratic enemies. And yet, Democrats launched a concerted offensive the day after Christie’s re-election to define the New Jersey governor in a negative light, questioning many of Christie’s “moderate” positions.
“By comparison to the tea party, he seems moderate, but he is not. And Democrats would do well to expose that reality”, said a Democratic strategist. Many Democrats believe that Christie is the strongest candidate against Hillary Clinton, should she decide to run.
In a poll taken in New Jersey on election day, Clinton is ahead of Christie by several points in a potential presidential race. Political observers in Washington believe that conservative Republicans will keep pointing at these polls to make their case for a tea party candidate like Rubio, Cruz or Paul. The civil war within the Republican Party has just seen the first skirmishes.