Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

How to get elected? Ask Christie

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
November 6, 2013 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
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
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT