Saturday, March 10, 2012

Three odd men out:
Why Christie, Rubio and McDonnell can’t help the GOP

There may be little or no clarity for a while about who the Republican nominee for the presidency will be, as the mad process of elimination plays itself out on the campaign trail. But we can be fairly certain of three people who won’t be invited to the dance as vice-presidential nominees.

While Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Bob McDonnell may have won plaudits and shored up their bona fides with primary season voters, recent actions by each of them can be expected to put them very much at odds with a general-election audience (read: the country at large and not just Republicans).

The actions of these three stooges, however well-received on their own political turf, aren’t likely to find their appeal is transferable on the national stage.

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Christie is thought to be keeping his powder dry while New Jersey governor, possibly the better to position himself as a contender for the White House in 2016. There’s not much shelf life in joining the Damaged Goods Sweepstakes that is the current battle for the Republican nomination.

It’s probably just as well Christie sits this one out for other reasons.

The New York Daily News reported that Gov. Christie laid into William Brown, a Navy veteran, on Thursday, calling the former Navy SEAL an “idiot” at a New Jersey town hall meeting. The two had reportedly clashed over Christie’s stated plans to merge two public universities.

Brown, a law school student at Rutgers-Camden, and someone who opposed the proposed merger of his school with Rowan University, expressed concerns that Christie’s plan would damage the value of his degree. "I know that all my friends in the military no matter what state they're from respect that fact that I go to Rutgers. It's also true that none of my friends in the military no matter what state they're from have ever heard of Rowan," he said, according to

Christie began an explanation, the Daily News reported, when Brown shouted "what about my son? What about my neighbors? What about my friends?"

Christie, who has a way of being prickly in a smoldering, timed-release fashion, continued his explanation. When Brown interrupted again, Christie went off.

"Let me tell you something, after you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is going to be thrown in jail, idiot," Christie shouted as Brown was led away by police.

Christie then told the largely sympathetic crowd, "You know, I tried to be patient with the guy. Every time I tried to answer, he started yelling over me again. Damn, man, I'm governor, could you just shut up for a second?"

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On Friday, Brown told the Daily News he was shocked at the way he was ushered from the public meeting. “I had two cops holding my arms,” he said. “I served my country, I am a combat veteran and they escorted me out like I was a criminal. I couldn’t believe this is America.”

Christie may be able to play that short-fuse persona regionally; that sort of in-your-face attitude gets you points in Jersey. Nationally, as part of a presidential ticket? Not so much. Never mind the fact that picking Christie to join a Republican ticket would require a certain amount of time just getting the American public up to speed with the Christie biography, telling the country who Chris Christie is.

Christie’s national coming-out party would also be overshadowed by events like the Town Hall blowup — a putdown of a veteran! A frickin’ former Navy SEAL! — and other similar explosions. That would make him a hard sell to the American public, which still reveres our veterans above just about anyone else.

Waiting for 2016 isn’t just a prudent move for Christie. Given his proven inclination for going off on anyone who crosses him, and the way it feeds into an already-strong perception of Republican intolerance, it may be his only move.

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Rubio, the young, telegenic Florida senator who’s become a darling of conservatives, was co-author of the Blunt amendment, a piece of legislation Rubio advanced in the Senate with Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt. The measure, which died the death in the Senate on March 1, would have permitted employers to make exemptions on health-care coverage based on how they felt about the moral dimensions of birth control — effectively replacing doctors with employers on such intensely personal matters.

The Blunt-Rubio bill went down to defeat, but it’s safe to say that millions of women around the country won’t soon forget Rubio’s role in creating the measure. Or the fact that Rubio’s name has been repeatedly bruited as a possible veep contender. That’s gonna be a hard sell to women voters in the general election, no matter who wins the nomination.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith told the Tampa Bay Times that Rubio “championed a dangerous and extreme measure which would have denied women the lifesaving health care they need. Make no mistake: Sen. Rubio, along with Mitt Romney, tried to turn women's health care into a political football in order to advance their own extreme agenda — a shameful, partisan tactic which threatened the lives of women in our state and across our country.”

Not exactly the kind of baggage you want to drag into the national spotlight.

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For McDonnell, the Virginia governor who has thoroughly fouled his relationship with the women voters of his state by signing into law an onerous piece of legislation that requires women to submit to state-sanctioned rape via ultrasound in order to receive abortions, the path to a spot on anyone’s ticket is hard to imagine.

McDonnell was set to sign the original measure passed by the state’s House of Delegates and Senate, requiring any woman seeking a first-trimester abortion in Virginia to undergo a medically unnecessary vaginal probe to “determine gestational age” — an invasive transvaginal procedure that is, in effect, a state-sanctioned rape.

He backtracked on the original bill, under withering fire from women’s health groups and others. But on Wednesday he signed a law that requires women to have an abdominal ultrasound before an abortion, conveniently omitting the more controversial requirement for a vaginal probe. For women, the change amounted to a distinction without a difference.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the Virginia law “an appalling and offensive government overreach.”

"Governor McDonnell's unwillingness to listen to the thousands of women across the commonwealth who are outraged by this political overreach into their lives shows nothing more than arrogance," NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene said in a statement.

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McDonnell’s action, already poisonous to the women of the Commonwealth, can hardly be seen as anything to be endorsed by the nation’s women voters, who constituted 54 percent of the vote in the 2008 election.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, “[i]n every presidential election since 1980, the proportion [of] female adults who voted has exceeded the proportion of made adults who voted.”

One cohort alone tells what’s at stake: There’s more than 22 million women between the ages of 18 and 29 eligible to vote. The Republicans couldn’t have found a more galvanizing issue to ensure their turnout in 2012 if they tried.

The Republican nominee, whoever he is, may throw caution to the winds and name one of these three Cro-Magnons to join him in pursuit of the presidency. But clearly, there’s every good political reason to look somewhere else.

Broad, high-minded, civics-driven concerns notwithstanding, people tend to vote their own self-interests. That fact is likely to doom any chances of a ticket that includes at least two of these three odd men out. That is, if women have anything to say about it. And they will have plenty to say about it.

Image credits: Christie and Brown: Washington Free Beacon. Rubio: via life McDonnell: Virginia ultrasound law protester: via youtube.

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