‘Bridgegate’ Won’t Be the End of Christie 2016, but the DREAM Act Could Be

Republican voters may dismiss the revelation that the governor’s cronies closed a bridge for political reasons. They won’t be so easy about giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition.

Was January 7, 2014, the day that Chris Christie lost the Republican presidential nomination? It very well could be.

I’m not talking the new developments in “Bridgegate” linking Christie’s office to the allegedly politically motivated use of a state agency to cause problems for a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse him. I would predict many in GOP will dismiss “Bridgegate” as more of the mainstream media (aka “lame stream” media) attack on one of their own. What I’m referring to is potentially more of a threat to Christie within his own party because it’s policy-based.

So what did what Christie do on January 7? He signed into law the New Jersey version of the DREAM Act that provides in-state tuition benefits to the children of undocumented immigrants. This provides these students with substantial savings. For example, in State students attending Rutgers University pay approximately $14,000 less per year than those living outside of New Jersey.

Where is the problem you ask? Well, if Christie weren’t probably running for president in 2016, there wouldn’t be one. But he is. Consequently, Christie has created two big problems for himself.

First, he has now embraced a position that is at odds with a large number of conservatives-you know, the people he needs to win the GOP nomination. Secondly, he will rightly be labeled as a flip-flopper on this issue for his “evolution” on it in just two years. (Even Mitt Romney waited more than two years to flip-flop on key issues.)

As I noted in November, this legislation presented a quandary for Christie. Signing it would hurt him with many in his own party but it likely helps him in the general election—especially with Latino voters. Despite the possible downside, I urged Christie to the support proposed legislation because it was good public policy. I’m sure my article was the deciding factor for him. (Okay, it wasn’t but I can at least dream, right?)

Christie’s problem is that he may be too reasonable for the many unreasonable people in the GOP. Recent polls show that Tea Party members compromise 49% of the Republican primary electorate. And these Tea Party peeps aren’t just the most conservative members of the GOP, they are also the most passionate. They are the ones who vote in higher numbers than moderates, who man phone banks to get out the vote, and hand out campaign literature.

Especially troubling for Christie is that an October 2013 poll found that 82% of Tea Party members oppose laws that in their view “reward illegal conduct” by granting benefits to undocumented immigrants. While that poll focused on the question of citizenship, providing the children of undocumented immigrants with state-subsidized lower tuition will likely elicit similar objections.

And just look what happened to Rick Perry in the 2012 GOP presidential primaries for signing almost identical legislation. Tea Party darling Rep. Michelle Bachmann slammed Perry, claiming that, “Texas taxpayers subsidize illegal immigrants’ in-state tuition to the tune of $25.9 million annually.”

Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican presidential nominee, also lashed out at Perry charging that this type of law creates a “magnet” for “illegal immigrants” to come to Texas. When Perry defended his decision to support the measure at a GOP debate in California, he was met with a chorus of boos from the 5,000-plus Republicans in the audience.

And even Chris Christie—yes, the same guy who signed the law into effect this week—attacked Perry in 2011: “I do not believe that, for the people who came here illegally, that we should be subsidizing, with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition, their education.”

Just yesterday we saw Tea Party congressman and Senate candidate from Georgia Paul Broun freak out over the number of “illegal aliens” in Georgia.

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Keep in mind Christie already had a problem with more conservative members of his party. A December poll found that only 15% of Tea Party members have a favorable view of Christie.

That number won’t be going up any time soon once they hear about this newly signed law.

Putting aside intraparty issues, Christie’s flip-flopping will also cause him grief. Two years ago, Christie opposed the in-state tuition benefit proposal with the comment that it’s, “not a heartless position” but rather, “a commonsense position.”

Flash forward two years later. Christie signs the bill into law, calling opponents “cold hearted” as he touted the students who would benefit from the law as, “an inspiration to us because in you we see all that our country can be.” Maybe Christie just saw the light, i.e. polls that show what Latino voters find important.

Obviously, we are a long way from deciding the Republican presidential nominee for 2016. But there’s no doubt that Christie’s support of this legislation will make it more challenging for him in the GOP primaries. Only time will tell, but January 7, 2014, might truly be seen as the day Christie lost the Republican nomination.