What’s the Point of Trying to Split the Baby?

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.

12 thoughts on “What’s the Point of Trying to Split the Baby?”

  1. This makes me sad and really, I sometimes wonder if we’d be better off simply voting for the *worst* guy — Communist, Socialist, far-Left Dem — in order to get people riled up enough to actually push *back* instead of settling for triangulating trimmers who don’t stand for anything except winning elections.

    1. I’m sort of inclined to agree; we’re facing a fair number of unknowns here in SC for 2014, primarily centered around Lindsey Graham. Conservatives hate him, liberals love him, the terminally stupid will vote for whomever has the prettiest ads in October. Graham, fortunately for him, will be facing at least 3 (as it stands now) in the Republican primary, unless they can smarten up and concentrate the vote around one of the three. Since SC does open primaries it wouldn’t surprise me to see Dems voting for him then to ensure he’s on the general ballot.

      There’s been some discussion of precisely what you mention, Roberta: if Graham is on the 2014 general ballot, vote for whomever, or whatever, runs against him. It’ll be a typical Commie Dem, we’ll vote them out in 2020 when we’ve cultivated a much better candidate, the most important issue is getting very RINO Graham out of Congress, and having sent that message, threaten the Commie Dem with a very dim Senate future unless he turns more conservative. I’m not sure how well that would work. Had Harry Reid been sent packing when we had the chance there would be more leverage.

      The Tea Party organizations in SC haven’t been heard from yet on the potential primary candidates so that’s a very big unknown, but what little noise they have made is decidedly anti-Graham.

  2. Another theory, and this is a long shot, is that Christy signed the bills he liked and vetoed the ones he didn’t. And I am not saying that sarcastically, I really do think it is a long shot for politicians to make decisions that way.

    1. I don’t think it’s that much of a long shot. Sometimes you do get politicians who vote their gut, and their gut just happens to make for good politics. I also tend to believe that a lot of politicians would swear up and down they call it according to their principles, but that they aren’t really being honest with themselves.

    2. Here’s another theory, in case anyone is writing a political-fiction novel: Christie encouraged the introduction of the bills he intended to veto, and then vetoed them, as part of the involved charade that will be 2016.

      [set paranoia off]

  3. Doubtful. A quick search of NJ campaign finance reports show Bloomberg only made political donations in 2008 and 2009.

    1. Jacob,

      The issue here is not the past, but the future. What have Bloomberg and Christie discussed vis-à-vis 2016?

      Either way he won’t be getting my vote.

      1. If Bloomberg were that that concerned about NJ politics he would have been spreading it around regularly like he does in NY.

        1. Bloomberg’s not concerned about NJ politics; he’s concerned about national politics. He doesn’t need to derail Governor Christie, he might want to derail President Christie.

  4. You know, I am a conservative republican. I have always voted for the republican candidate in every federal election be it for house, senate, or president. There were times I held my nose(Dole, Mccain) but i supported the party. If Christie is the republican nominee in 2016 I will, for the first time, vote for the third party(libertarian) candidate on the ballot. I can’t in good conscience support this man.

  5. Splitting the Baby / Splitting the Elections

    I think it was a simple call for him. Sign the “No Guns for Terrorists Bill” because it would be hard to sail to a win in New Jersey without doing so. Not with Manhattan in literal view.

    The ban bills he would have signed, but for the fact he wants to have national prominence in the upcoming Presidential race. He does not need us moving against him in large numbers. Nobody can win the nomination after banning guns.

    He split the risk. He must think he can ‘fix’ his terrorist-watch-list signature in the future, and I suspect he will do so by dissembling the discussion into a larger push for more open lists and due process. Maybe his people think he can escape by saying, “we were right about the terrorist thing, but the terrorist lists need due process.”

    Wrong. Won’t work.

    Romney was the least-worst option for Republicans last time around, and that got the party nowhere. Those who were really conservative or libertarian basically sat it out. As much as the press would love to repeat that story (literally), I don’t think primary voters anywhere outside the North East or some areas of the far West are going to vote for a NJ pol.

    My big concern this next time around is a swing too far to the right on the social issues. That will turn off those middle people who decide elections – those people who don’t want government involved in their lives, even if it calls itself ‘conservative’. The Goldilocks candidate – conservative enough to get the churches involved but not so far right that it scares libertarians like me – is going to be hard to find in the current list of probable Republican contenders.

    Hillary (or whoever), on the other hand, won’t have a problem. The Left is real good about voting the line no matter who runs. They whine, but they hit the right buttons. They don’t do ‘protest votes’ (anymore).

    If the GOP is the ‘Party of Stupid’, we really cannot look beyond those who vote for them. We are all to blame.

  6. “If the GOP is the ‘Party of Stupid’, we really cannot look beyond those who vote for them. We are all to blame.”

    To look at this just from the gun owners view, we have pretty much allowed — however it happened — our issue to be bundled with a lot of issues that have nothing at all to do with the RKBA philosophically, but now appear to be on the losing side of the “culture wars,” which arguably are the only linkage. When the GOP decided to go to the wall over the culture wars, they made a commitment that everyone who collectively signed on with them has to live with.

    In that way “we are all to blame.” The few of us who did not sign on as fellow travelers, for anything except the RKBA, had no real chance of changing that dynamic.

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