THE BLOG
01/17/2014 10:38 am ET Updated Mar 19, 2014

Crossing That Bridge to Moderation: The GOP Needs Christie to Survive Bridgegate

I'm going to be upfront with you. In case you have not been religiously reading my columns for the last few years, I'm a stout, fair, common-sense political man.

I'm a fiscal conservative, moderate on family values and immigration, and liberal (that dirty word) on some social issues like women's rights, GLBT equality, etc.

So in terms of politicians, I really like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. I mean really, really like him.

I'm a lost soul of a dying tribe of (former) Republicans from the Northeast, whose root beliefs were born and bred in now dead scions of the Republican Party -- Jacob Javits, Abraham Ribicoff and Nelson Rockefeller, who were not afraid of compromise to move this country ahead and who had compassion for the common American.

We've been wandering the proverbial desert for decades, starving for legitimacy, trying to find our way back to the Promised Land of political sanity, suffering disappointment after disappointment with guys like John McCain and Mitt Romney, who both sadly and needlessly played to the belligerent base instead of just being themselves.

And then the big guy appeared, like manna out of the heavens.

Chris Christie is probably the last great hope in my lifetime to start to bring not only his party, but the American political system, to a center of political viability.

It's not that I agree with his beliefs totally, especially in terms of his bent toward equating his social beliefs with his Catholicism.

But he is a Republican who was a tough, successful prosecutor in a very corrupt state, a pragmatist who was able to take on municipal unions and defeat them to gain financial security for his state, and also smart enough to embrace the help and empathy of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Or just maybe it's because he's proven, until now, a big fat winner in a skinny, star-studded, politically correct world.

So this "Bridgegate" situation is rather troublesome to me, not because he - wait, his aides -- played Jersey political hard ball (again) and tied up traffic for a few days on the George Washington Bridge, but because he gave the Democrats and their press agents in the mainstream media that golden opportunity to shoot him down as a legitimate contender for the White House.

And the reason they are coming at him with full vigor is that he is probably the only Republican who can win the White House, who can carry Blue states and beat Hillary Clinton.

Remember, it's not important whether he will galvanize tea baggers and social conservatives on the GOP's right wing. He just has to make it in the pack past the early Bible Belt primaries.

Long term, he's probably the only viable GOP candidate right now who can attract votes from both independents and Democrats.

Here's the most important fact:

Right now, from the get-go of the 2016 presidential race, the GOP can't win over half the electoral votes needed to win the presidency in 2016 with a socially conservative candidate. Unless a moderate northeastern Republican from New Jersey, or New York or New England runs against Hillary, or Vice President Joe Biden, or any Democrat, they can't capture the crucial Electoral College votes in the Northeast and on the Pacific Coast.

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, can't win states like New Jersey and California as Christie can.

To win the White House, the GOP has to capture not only those old Reagan Democrats, but the growing pool of disaffected independents and even mainstream Democrats looking for not only a tough pragmatist in the Oval Office, but stability and sanity in Washington.

And if the last two presidential elections proved anything, the GOP can't bank on a strategy of picking up swing states to win, like Ohio and Florida, which are increasingly turning blue.

So in the next few weeks we will see if Christie survives another day to campaign in Iowa, or whether, as Bruce Springsteen would say, he will become strictly another Jersey corner boy "stuck down in the street making all that noise."

America should hope that the rancor of Bridgegate is at best a good vetting of a future presidential candidate. For us political dinosaurs, it's now really a matter of Christie saving us from true extinction.

Published in Florida Context on January 16, 2014

kurly@stevenkurlander.com
Twitter: @kurlykomments