New Hampshire serves democracy well
The GOP debate Saturday night on ABC resolved the leadership question that has been hanging over the months-long Republican contest. Governor Chris Christie joined the issue with Senator Marco Rubio and made the case in resounding and conclusive fashion that gubernatorial leadership is superior to senatorial experience.
Christie framed the question, and framing the question is the first step in winning any debate. The New Jersey governor offered a two-part description of the senatorial role, “Every morning when a senator wakes up he thinks about what kind of speech can I give or what kind of bill can I drop.”
Then, he explained a governor’s job: “Every morning when I wake up, I think about what kind of problem do I have to solve for the people who actually elected me.”
Then, Christie turned and looked Rubio directly in the eye and made it personal.
“You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable.”
Christie proved his point in terms of the second of a senator’s two functions, the legislative role, “The fact is that when you talk about the Hezballah Sanctions Act that you just listed as one of your accomplishments, you weren’t even there to vote for it. That’s not leadership, that’s truancy.”
Rubio responded with a very effective point. “I think the experience is not just what you did, but how it worked out. Under Chris Christie’s governorship of New Jersey, they’ve been downgraded nine times on their credit rating.”
Had Rubio left it there, it would have been a strong response. However, probably sensing that the current subject was dangerous ground and that he should move to new ground, he launched into a well known segment of his regular stump speech to the effect that Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing, i.e. trying to change America in dangerous and damaging ways.
Christie came back immediately, addressing the other part of the senatorial role he’d outlined, the speech-making. Looking directly into the camera, he said: “You see everybody … That’s what Washington, DC does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information, and then the memorized 25 second speech… ”
Christie continued, “You see, Marco, when you’re president of the United States or governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end doesn’t solve one problem for one person.”
How did Rubio respond? With a second recitation of the exact same speech segment he’d just delivered! In conclusive show-and-tell fashion, he proved Christie’s point.
Christie didn’t win the senator-vs.-governor leadership question just in terms of himself and Rubio, he won the debate generically. Afterward – this exchange occurred early in the debate − Governors Kasich and Bush stood taller. Both had their best debates yet.
Bush took on Donald Trump on eminent domain and had the best of the exchange, which extended the gubernatorial victory to ascendency over the “outsiders” as well.
What was it about Christie that enabled him to dismantle Rubio in such devastating fashion? Undeniably, he is a natural talent. He was a federal prosecutor, which certainly prepared him to prosecute the case against Rubio.
But there is something else: Christie has more experience in the public forum than any other candidate. According to New England Cable News, he has held more than 180 events (not all town halls) in New Hampshire, second and only slightly behind Governor John Kasich. And people forget that Christie has governed New Jersey overwhelmingly by town hall meeting, having held 137 such events. He is practiced in the hurly burly of public debate.
At a town hall meeting at Shooters Pub in Exeter Sunday, Christie was asked which of those elements of his talents and abilities had enabled him to take on Rubio in the debate. The governor smiled and said, "All of that.”
In contrast, Marco Rubio has held only 80 events in New Hampshire, and he has a reputation of primarily delivering prepared remarks and taking few questions. Senator Cruz has held only 76 events, although he relishes Q&A. Of the outsiders, Trump has held only 42 events, and virtually never takes questions, and Dr. Ben Carson has held only 36 events.
Now, remember, John Kasich has held the most NH events, right? Jeb Bush has held 111. Both hold long Q&A sessions afterward.
Saturday night, the governors demonstrated the experience and facility with public debate that their dedication to New Hampshire town hall meetings has afforded them. They have become better candidates passing through the crucible of the central element of the New Hampshire primary.
The town hall meeting not only affords Granite State voters unique access to the candidates, but it serves to develop the candidates as communicators. Communication is a critical leadership skill that is essential to effective leadership.
Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, with its signature town hall meeting format, is indispensible to American democracy.
Red Jahncke (RTJahncke@Gmail; Twitter: @RedJahncke), an occassional contributor, will be providing dispatches for theday.com from New Hampshire this week leading up to Tuesdayâ€™s first in the nation primary. Jahncke is president of The Townsend Group, LLC, a business consulting firm.