Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

How to get elected? Ask Christie

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 1:28 PM EST, Wed November 6, 2013
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, won a second term in a traditionally blue state.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, won a second term in a traditionally blue state.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Chris Christie won 60% of the vote in a blue state: GOP should take note
  • Christie also got 51% of Hispanic vote, he says, very unusual for a Repbulican
  • Navarrette says as a Latino voter, he finds Christie's straight talk appealing
  • He says Christie flip-flopped on immigration, but Latinos care about bread-and-butter issues

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Election week is the perfect time for Americans to think about what we want in a candidate and what we don't.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who handily won re-election this week with 60% of the vote, believes that he has the answers.

We should all pull up a chair and listen, but especially the GOP. It's not every day that a Republican governor makes such inroads with the type of voters who tend not to vote Republican.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

How's this for a headline? According to CNN exit polls, at a time when Republicans are struggling to get as little as 35% of the Hispanic vote, Christie got 51%. How did that happen?

The man being touted as the new front-runner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination provided a clue during an appearance Tuesday on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

"I think sometimes we forget that candidates matter," Christie said. "It's not just about a checklist of issues. It's also about how a person presents themselves as a candidate, how they articulate their view on things and how they react to certain situations. People make judgments based on all those things."

Of course, he's right. Reporters will spend the next few days scouring Christie's record as governor and, before that, as U.S. attorney in New Jersey for a silver bullet that they will claim helped woo Latino voters. It's the wrong thing to do. As Christie noted, voters don't walk into the polling booth with a scorecard. But reporters will look over the record just the same.

They'll center on immigration, even though polls have consistently showed that Latinos care more about bread-and-butter matters such as jobs, education, the economy and health care.

On immigration, with Christie, reporters will find a mixed bag. In April 2008, while serving as U.S. attorney, he used a speech at a church to take aim at the idea that just being in the country without permission is illegal.

Can Christie "go national"?
The morning after Election Day
Breaking down Election 2013 results

"Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime," the prosecutor said. "The whole phrase of 'illegal immigrant' connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime. ... Don't let people make you believe that that's a crime that the U.S. attorney's office should be doing something about."

In July 2010, as governor, during an appearance on ABC's "This Week," Christie called on President Obama and Congress to "put forward a common-sense pathway to citizenship for people." Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had signed the restrictive Arizona immigration law just a few months earlier. Christie said that "states are going to struggle all over the country with this problem" until Washington passes a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

Yet, in dealing with another immigration issue in 2011, Christie said he would veto the Tuition Equality Act, a bill allowing students who have been in high school in New Jersey for three years, including undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities. He cited "budget constraints" but also insisted that public money should not go to "people who haven't followed the rules."

That same year, Christie, who was an outspoken supporter of former Gov. Mitt Romney in the GOP battle for the 2012 presidential nomination, attacked Texas Gov. Rick Perry, one of Romney chief rivals, for signing a bill in the Lone Star State that allowed illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition.

But last month, in an apparent flip-flop and re-election year conversion, the governor has changed his mind. Now he supports the idea and says that he will try to get it through the legislature. He tried to claim that his previous opposition was about dollars and cents and strictly an issue of budget costs.

Nice try. But remember, Christie also said, in those remarks from 2011, that public money shouldn't go to "people who haven't followed the rules." That reality hasn't changed. Illegal immigrants are still not following the rules. Instead, Christie is changing the rules for his benefit.

What does all this mean to Latino voters? Not much.

When Tapper asked Christie how he would respond to critics who insist that the Republican's success in the dependably blue state of New Jersey is a "triumph of personality over policy," the governor scoffed and once again dismissed the suggestion that voters have a checklist of issues.

"That's not the way that people vote, in my experience," he said. "I think that voting is much more visceral. People say, 'Can I trust this person? Do they lead? Do they tell me the truth?' They look at the issues, too. But that analysis implies that people are robots and just check a list. They don't do that."

Speaking as a Latino voter who has over the past several months taken a liking to Christie for his straight talk and courageous stand against teachers unions, I'll second that.

I'm not looking for someone who agrees with me on all issues, because -- as Christie has noted -- the candidate could just be lying to get my vote. Or she might change her stance and take a position opposite mine once she gets elected.

I care about character and what's in a person's heart. I want someone who inspires me. I want to vote for candidates who know who they are, and they're not willing to change for anyone -- including me.

In my book, a good leader has 10 essential qualities: empathy, vision, courage, integrity, independence, decisiveness, an eagerness to take risks, the ability to discern right and wrong, the willingness to be bold and thoughtful, and an abundance of common sense.

By the way, the last one is sometimes the hardest to come by.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:30 PM EST, Sun December 28, 2014
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT