The National Memo‘s Henry Decker has spent the last few months trying to decide who Mitt Romney’s worst campaign surrogate is. Newt Gingrich was always competitive but John Sununu seemed to have the title sewn up after claiming Colin Powell only endorsed the president because both men are black. Herman Cain and Allen West are still waiting for their endorsements from the retired general.
But I think we have a winner: Chris Christie.
As the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention, Christie was widely panned for giving a speech that was nearly half over before he started vaunting Mitt Romney. Throughout the year, he’s continually made references to a possible run for president in 2016, as if we should assume Mitt Romney won’t be running for re-election. Now, Chris Christie has committed an almost unpardonable sin in the Republican Party: he’s given some honest praise to President Obama just days before the election.
On NBC’s Today show Tuesday morning, Christie said, “The president has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA.”
Not since President Bush told former FEMA head Michael Brown that he was doing a “heckuva job” in the disastrous aftermath of Katrina have so few words sent so many chills down Republican spines.
Christie also repeated similar praise via tweet and on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. He also added that he doesn’t “give a damn” if Mitt Romney visits New Jersey to survey the damage as a photo-op.
Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ana Navarro immediately understood the impact of such affirming words for a man many on the far right consider the closest thing to the Antichrist:
B4 #Sandy, Gov. Christie was to b in swing states saying Obama has been awful. After Sandy, he’s on Ntl TV saying Obama “has been great”
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) October 30, 2012
Though the president has the advantage in the swing states he needs to win, this race on the national level is historically close. Could Christie’s praise help the president cinch the popular vote, which seems to be trending to Romney? Possibly.
Political scientists have found that natural disasters can affect elections.
Mother Jones‘ Adam Serwer spoke to Professor Larry Bartles, who studied the effect of drought on the 2000 election. Bartles said, “How a president manages a crisis matters…and how a president sells his management of a crisis can matter even more.”
What better way is there to sell your handling of a crisis than to have your opponent’s most high-profile surrogate praise you on national TV?
If Sununu and Gingrich want to catch up, they’d better start looking for a tape of Romney doing naughty things to an American flag.