How Chris Christie stacks up to Rudy Giuliani
By: Maggie Haberman
November 10, 2013 07:10 AM EST
Talk to early presidential state or Washington operatives and you hear the same thing over and over about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential prospects: He’s the second coming of Rudy Giuliani.
National Democrats have given the idea new life the past week, looking to ding Christie after allowing him to coast to reelection untouched. But the comparison is hardly new: Republicans have invoked it for years, and not in a favorable way – intimating Christie is too provincial and, like the former New York mayor, will prove too liberal to win his party’s presidential nomination. Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has made the analogy privately in conversations.
It’s become a proxy for the debate among Republicans about whether Christie will have staying power in Republican primaries dominated by social conservatives and tea party activists.
The comparison rankles Christie supporters, but there is some truth to it. Both are tough-talking ex-prosecutors from the tri-state area. Christie is being cast as the moderate in a potential 2016 primary, just as Giuliani was before he bowed out of the 2008 running. And they’re allies: the only person Christie asked to stump for him in both his gubernatorial campaigns was Giuliani.
But the parallels only go so far. Christie approaches a potential presidential campaign in a stronger position to appeal to the conservative base. He has the look of a much better national candidate than Giuliani was.
Here’s a closer look at how the two stack up:
There were many deal-breakers for Giuliani with social conservatives when he ran for president in 2007 but one that mattered most – he favored abortion rights. Christie does not.
“He checks a box that makes – even with whatever issues he might have with the tea party or whatever – it’s not as emotional, it’s not as sort of irreversible, as the [issues] that I faced,” Giuliani told POLITICO in an interview.
Christie’s supporters frequently point to his stance on abortion when his conservative bona fides are called into question. He’s also against gay-marriage, a fact that’s better known thanks to his administration’s appeal of a court ruling allowing same-sex nuptials in New Jersey. Giuliani’s complicated personal life and multiple marriages also didn’t sit well with conservatives.
But perception can be a problem too – Giuliani was believed to be pro-gay marriage because he was close friends with a gay couple, and it was used against him. Christie’s decision to ultimately drop the appeal of the gay marriage ruling when it became clear he would lose upset some social conservatives, although it pleased many of his GOP donors, who’ve shifted on the issue since 2008.
“Rudy never had a credible argument he could make to that element of the base and frankly he never tried,” said David Polyansky, who advised the presidential campaigns of Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee. “[But Christie] can still talk the talk on life on marriage and even the second amendment.”
Christie favors limited gun-control restrictions, and he will face questions about that in places like New Hampshire and South Carolina. But he starts out from a better position than Giuliani did.
The straight-talk, tough-guy thing
In 2009, he told his campaign rival to “man up and say I’m fat.” Since then, he’s become a YouTube video waiting to be made, dressing down constituents at town halls one day and exploding at critics the next, in the blunt-spoken style that’s made him one of his party’s best-known figures.
It’s all reminiscent of Giuliani, who years earlier regularly sparred with reporters or callers on his weekly radio show. Audio of those shows played during his presidential run painted a less-than-leaderly picture of the man who early in his mayoralty famously said his city could “kick your city’s ass” and went on to gain hero status after Sep. 11, 2001.
When people argue that Christie’s anger is a turn-off, they may be missing just how angry the electorate is right now. The risk for Christie is seeming like he’s angry at voters themselves – getting into back-and-forths with people at town halls, as he did at an event for Mitt Romney in early 2012, might not wear well.
But for the past five years, Republican voters have been looking for a nominee who can take the fight to Democrats. And unlike Giuliani, who ran after eight years of a Republican in the White House, Christie would be running after the GOP lost presidency twice.
The timing for an angrier candidate, in other words, may be a lot better.
Both men, the early favorites of donors, have celebrity status, although Giuliani’s was far greater than Christie’s.
Voters wanted to touch the hem of the gown of the hero of 9/11, asking Giuliani to talk about about his memories of the attack. But his record, dusty by then after nearly seven years out of office, was less of a question on the minds of voters, who ultimately declined to pick him in the primaries. He had an edge Christie does not – he was perceived to have foreign policy experience because of 9/11 – but it did him little good.
Christie’s national celebrity was enhanced greatly after Hurricane Sandy, and he is capping his reelection by touring the round of Sunday morning news shows.
But celebrity can only take a politician so far if it’s not matched by work ethic. And Christie is a harder-working candidate than Giuliani ever was; Giuliani, once a terrific campaigner in his mayoral days, barely campaigned in 2007. He would give a speech and then turn around and leave quickly. He traveled with a massive entourage. His heart, ultimately, wasn’t in it.
Christie also has a sizeable entourage but a Kardashian-style campaign has not been his problem. He spent almost a week on a campaign bus swing around New Jersey in his final week of the campaign, an exercise aimed in part at demonstrating a work ethic and his connection with voters.
“He’s a very, very good campaigner in every respect,” said Giuliani, who was on the campaign bus with Christie the Friday before the election. “he’s a warm person he talks in a language that people understand.”
Picking the right fights
Giuliani’s brand was “what you see is what you get.” Yet he spent most of the primary process twisting himself into a pretzel to please his party’s conservatives, trying to modulate his position on abortion to the extent he could.
Christie has made clear he is going to pick certain fights with the right that Giuliani never did – for one, calling out people like Cruz who were instrumental in the effort to defund Obamacare that led to a government shutdown.
When Giuliani had issues with Republicans while in office, it was with his party at large – he boycotted the GOP national convention in 1996, for instance. He had a narrow, local lens for politics, while Christie seems to have a better understanding of the national landscape.
The question is whether Christie is able to seem like a team player, as opposed to a constant GOP critic.
This quality, shared by both men, has bedeviled Christie at times over the past few years as the national spotlight on him has intensified.
Christie has blown up at the most routine of critics, even personally calling a former White House physician who commented on potential health risks his weight might pose. He was enraged over the negativity surrounding his Republican National Convention speech in 2012.
Giuliani never took lightly to criticism while he was in office, often belittling reporters and calling news editors himself to scream over objectionable headlines. But by the time he ran for president, he was less prickly.
Giuliani was also mostly shielded from the toughest coverage by his aides during the pre-Twitter era. Christie, by contrast, follows a lot of his own press.
But while New Jersey is covered by two media markets, New York City and Philadelphia, it doesn’t actually have one of its own. And while he may not view it that way, his press has largely been positive.
There are two constants between Giuliani and Christie – advisers Mike DuHaime and Maria Comella.
DuHaime, Giuliani’s presidential campaign manager, is a senior adviser to Christie since 2009. Comella, a Giuliani presidential campaign press aide, is Christie’s communications director.
DuHaime came under fire for Giuliani’s failed “Florida firewall” strategy, but has since been integral to Christie’s two successful campaigns. Comella is broadly respected and her team has shown the kind of web proficiency necessary in a modern campaign.
“Christie now has the luxury of having a solid team of advisers but many of those same folks learned a lot of the lessons good and bad from 2008,” said Polyansky, who worked on Huckabee’s campaign that cycle.. “Those folks, they learned what worked for Rudy and what didn’t and that’s a huge, huge advantage.”
Craig Robinson, a former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party and founder of The Iowa Republican website, argued that Christie’s team needs to show more than they did with Giulian. If they do, he said, “the sky’s the limit” for Christie.
But if Christie “runs scared like Rudy did in 2008,” Robinson added, “it’s never going to work.”