As the Republican Party agonizes over its ideological future and the Democratic Party wrangles over its commitment to progressivism, two exemplary Mid-Atlantic governors have emerged to set the tone for a possible consensus mode of governance.
Those trailblazers are Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey and Democrat Andrew Cuomo of New York. Both have attracted a considerable amount of presidential chatter, and both sport approval ratings in the 70s. Although they are from opposing parties, their actions while in office have been uncannily similar -- and quite attractive to partisans from the opposition. Christie has governed in such a way that progressive former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has declared him her "new favorite Republican." Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has praised Cuomo's leadership and has called him "courageous." Both Christie and Cuomo -- both before and after their successful handling of Superstorm Sandy -- have regularly earned healthy approval ratings from the rank and file of the other party.
That these two men's fortunes have been so linked is no accident. What they stand for is an emerging bipartisan American consensus: fiscal prudence and social tolerance. In effect, their approach to governance is one of pragmatic libertarianism.
Both men immediately recognized the need to reform their states' bloated, unsustainable public-sector pension programs -- and both took action, which will lead to billions of dollars in savings over the years to come. Both enacted long-overdue property-tax caps in their respective states, and both -- Cuomo especially -- have taken important strides toward balancing their states' budgets.
Both have run to the left on social issues. Cuomo successfully championed same-sex marriage in New York, while Christie has tacked to the left of his party by declaring that New Jerseyans should make the decision for their own state in a referendum -- which, as Christie himself pointed out, would almost certainly be resolved in favor of marriage equality. Christie is personally pro-life, but has been explicit in his desire to not use the governorship to "force his views down people's throats." Intriguingly, both men have been unusually outspoken about their skepticism toward the "war on drugs": Christie has declared the decades-long effort a "failure" and has called for a new, rehabilitation-based model, while Cuomo has pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana in New York.
Both have defied party politics: Christie slammed populist right-wingers who attacked his appointment of a Muslim to the New Jersey Supreme Court by declaring that he is "tired of dealing with the crazies." Cuomo stood up to endorse the reelections of Republican state senators who had bucked their party to support same-sex marriage.
Their leadership style served them well during crisis, too: Both men won universal praise from their constituents for their handling of Superstorm Sandy.
Notably, both outrage their parties' ideological bases: Writers at right-wing media outlets such as The Washington Times and RedState regularly slam Chris Christie as a "RINO," while MSNBC's Chris Hayes has openly blasted Andrew Cuomo for his insufficient dedication to progressivism. Yet, with approval ratings in the 70s, it's clear that their electorates have rejected these ideological extremes in favor of a practical, modern approach.
Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo may hail from opposing parties, but their mutual successes represent an intriguing view of what an emerging American consensus might look like. The Republican Party generally refuses to acknowledge that our nation is becoming more tolerant and accepting of rising minority groups, and the Democratic Party mostly refuses to recognize our long-term structural fiscal issues. America is struggling with an identity crisis. The consensus-oriented approach of Mid-Atlantic libertarian-minded politicians like Governors Christie and Cuomo represents a most promising way forward.