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Bill Press: No rush on Christie

The media loves a new political star. Last year, it went gaga over Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain.

This year’s political darling is Chris Christie.

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He popped up on the cover of TIME magazine as “The Elephant in the Room” (which is probably not how the New Jersey governor would prefer to be known). He appeared on four out of five Sunday morning shows. NBC rushed out with a poll pitting him against Hillary Clinton in 2016 (he loses, 44 percent to 34 percent). And New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has gushed: “I will support Governor Christie in anything he decides to do in life.”

Yes, the 2016 Chris Christie Express is leaving the station. But before politicians or voters of either party rush to jump on board, they should pause to take a closer look at his record. Despite all the hype and self-promotion, there might be a lot less to Christie than meets the eye.

For Republicans, especially, Christie is problematic. In fact, he personifies the civil war now splitting the party in two. For establishment Republicans, he’s nothing short of the Second Coming. He’s a conservative who managed to win reelection in a very blue state, with the support of 32 percent of Democrats. No small feat.

But Tea Party Republicans aren’t buying it. For them, Christie’s not the real deal. They accuse him of caving too easily in his opposition to same-sex marriage, they don’t trust him on abortion and they blame him for agreeing to expand Medicaid under President Obama. Above all else, they’ll never forgive him for helping make Obama look good after Hurricane Sandy, during the 2012 presidential election.

But Democrats should think twice about Christie, too. He’s no Tea Party conservative, but he’s no centrist, either.

He’s vetoed gun control legislation, opposed raising the minimum wage, vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood five times, opposed marriage equality and forced teachers to pay more for their pensions and healthcare after promising, as a candidate for governor, to protect their benefits. All of this, while he’s presided over a state with an economy that has lagged behind the rest of the nation, at 8.5 percent unemployment. 

Granted, Christie did an outstanding job in response to Hurricane Sandy, thanks to the full assistance of the president and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But he only did what any governor, Republican or Democrat, would do. Tea Party protests to the contrary, only an idiot would play politics so far as to reject federal aid for his state after a natural disaster. But if Christie thinks heroic response to one big event is a sure path to the White House, he should talk to President Rudy Giuliani.

Bottom line: It’s a long way until 2016, and much too early to crown anybody their party’s nominee, especially Chris Christie. Yes, he has a certain colorful, superficial appeal. But, like many of the GOP primary candidates in 2012, the closer you look at him, the less you find to like.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.