Last August before a closed meeting of Republican leaders in Boston, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said, "We are not a debating society. We are a political operation that needs to win."
Tuesday night, Christie won. Big time. In one of the nation's bluest states, Christie got 60.5 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, claims she lost because "Democratic political bosses" made a deal with Christie "despite him representing almost everything they're against. ... They did it to help themselves politically and financially." In other words, they voted out of self-interest. Imagine that. Self-interest in politics.
"I didn't seek a second term to do small things," Christie said Tuesday night. "I sought a second term to finish the job. Now watch me do it."
It was the first Christie speech I have seen in several months and it was the first time I didn't think of his weight before considering his words. Christie, who had lap-band surgery to lose weight, appears committed to slimming down and looks good. If he can drop another 50 to 100 pounds, he could be in shape for 2016. After demonstrating his ability to attract Democrats and Independents during his re-election campaign, Christie must be considered the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
"A political celebrity" is what Newark Star-Ledger reporter Jenna Portnoy called him in her election night story. The last time Republicans had one of those his name was Ronald Reagan.
Christie does more than dump on Washington's gridlock and dysfunction. He contrasts his accomplishments with Washington's failures. It's not only style, but substance. As when he said Tuesday night: "I know that if we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, then maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in to their TVs right now and see how it's done."
Virtually everyone runs against Washington, but none have been able to slay the dragon. That's because changing Washington ought not be the goal; the goal should be to change ourselves and our attitudes about government. Virtually everyone dislikes "Washington," but when it comes to giving up a favorite program, they resist. If Christie seeks the presidency, he will have to say what he will eliminate and how he will do it, as well as tell voters they must do more for themselves. The force of his personality will not be enough. Few change Washington. Usually Washington changes them.
For Christie to have a successful run at the presidency, he might assemble a bipartisan group of advisers. If he has Democrats working with him that would make it more difficult for them to attack him, giving him the chance to replicate nationally what he has done in New Jersey. He doesn't have to compromise his principles. He should focus on what works. It's one thing to take on the unions in New Jersey, for example. It's quite another to take them on nationally.
Should Christie run for president, the national media will initially be torn between a sure-fire ratings booster like Christie and the possibility of the first woman president. Ultimately, it'll be no contest. Media will likely back Hillary Clinton.
But Hillary Clinton can be beaten. After all, Barack Obama did it. In 2008, it was a choice for Democrats between Clinton and the first African-American president. That choice won't be as profound, or as historic, in two years. Christie will have to run on a platform of knowing how to succeed, which puts Clinton at a disadvantage, since her list of accomplishments is meager, if not nonexistent.
The conservative wing of the GOP will have to decide whether they want purity or victory. No politician (including the sainted Reagan) is perfect.
At the August GOP gathering in Boston, Christie said, "I'm in this business to win ... if we don't win, we don't govern. And if we don't govern, all we do is shout into the wind...."
This country needs someone who will govern. Is Christie the one?
CAL THOMAS is a nationally syndicated columnist.