Jeff Soyer at Alphecca points out that the anti-gun folks are going ape shit over Christie’s vetoes. But Christie signed a few of the bills. Why? How much middle ground is there really to be had on this issue? It looks like all Christie accomplished was pissing off his base in order to fail to please people who would never vote for you even if personally went around confiscating guns from every single New Jerseyan. So why sign a few bad bills and veto some other worse bills? Why not just veto everything?
This is where I have to detach myself from the fact that I would like Christie to have just vetoed their whole agenda, and try to look at this from the point of view of someone who doesn’t have a pet cause. It’s often thought that politicians are not rational creatures, and often they aren’t when it comes to most things. But most of them are very good at one thing if they have the chops to make a career out of politics: not losing elections. You can say a lot of things about Chris Christie, but not that he lacks political talent. I think he’s an enormously talented politician (which is probably the biggest mixed compliment I think you can ever offer).
So why split the baby? What does Christie gain? I have a theory. To verify my theory, the key thing to watch is what Bloomberg does. If my theory is correct, Bloomberg won’t say much, or anything about Christie’s veto, because he still signed one of their signature pieces of legislation: the “terror watch list” ban. Christie may made that move to keep Bloomberg’s money out of his reelection bid. The risk Bloomberg could spoil Christie’s re-election seems absurd, but generally speaking, when it comes to not losing elections, politicians can be pretty risk averse. Mitt Romney was so risk averse it cost him the election!
It’s often said in politics that the only people who vote in large numbers on the gun issue are us. Even looking objectively, and not as an activist, I think that’s true. If everything just depended on pure grassroots energy, organization, and turnout at the polls, we’d never lose. But this isn’t strictly a battle of grassroots. What Bloomberg (or more specifically his money) can do in a race is not so much get people to vote on his pet issues, but help paint Chris Christie as a right-wing extremist and out of touch with New Jersey voters. That might make you laugh, and it makes me laugh too, but who won’t laugh are the people who don’t pay attention to anything until the week before the election. If all you have is money, your best strategy is to ruin your opponent’s brand with low-information voters.
Cash is powerful in politics, and it’s powerful because it’s the chief tool for swaying the undecideds in the final push before the election. Those undecideds don’t know much more about the candidate they choose to vote for, or the issues the candidates stands for. They vote more on gut feel. Elections do involve grassroots organization, but they also involve political elites (and that would include you all, for the purposes of this discussion) convincing a lot of other less involved people to vote for your guy. I think Bloomberg’s ability to do that prospect is what Christie fears. Otherwise his best course of action, especially given his designs on national office, was to veto everything.