Republican leaders have a choice. They can either move forward and start the hard work of recasting their party so it appeals to a broader cross-section of the country, or they can keep looking backward to make scapegoats — like they've done with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — and appear even more out of touch.
Party elders are continuing to carp about Christie's warm behavior toward President Barack Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which roared ashore near Atlantic City and hammered the Northeast in the closing week of the presidential campaign. Christie's praise for Obama's fast response in moving federal emergency operations and disaster relief to New Jersey is seen by some party donors and activists as having snatched the election from Mitt Romney's grasp. That is both preposterous and telling in what it says about the party's sincerity in calling for a more inclusive agenda.
Hurricanes are life-and-death disasters that bring terrible pain to families, businesses and whole communities. Christie's job as governor was to look after his state, which he did. Standing with the president and praising the administration for rushing federal assets to New Jersey not only saved lives and property, it helped millions of victims in the Northeast realize that they were not in it alone, that they would not be forgotten, and that the government would help them pick up the pieces.
These anxieties may sound abstract to party moneybags and strategists thousands of miles from torn-up communities, but they are what tens of millions of Americans who live under the threat of these storms deal with every hurricane season. There are few things as disconcerting as picking through a yard full of splintered wood and memories and wondering when the water will recede, when the power will come back on and how on earth to start rebuilding a normal life.
Obama and Christie may have had political reasons to show a sense of solidarity at the height of the campaign season. But the shared purpose brought results. And it promised to bring staying power to New Jersey regardless of who won. The reconstruction process will far exceed the term Obama begins in January. And in these tight budgetary times, the competition for federal money will be scarce throughout the Northeast. Christie put his state out in front.
Playing politics with natural disasters such as hurricanes has never been a political winner. (For both sides of that story, just ask the Bush brothers.) Romney and the Republicans have enough to chew on over how they lost the election. They shouldn't single out a governor who demonstrated the right priorities when his constituents needed him most.