At a Republican Party gathering last week in Boston, New Jersey governor and presumed future presidential candidate Chris Christie asserted to his fellow attendees, “I am going to do anything I need to do to win.”
The remark was part of a general critique by Christie about certain characters in his party—particularly Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, with whom he recently feuded—who seem content to express their political philosophies from the sidelines, but are not terribly interested in the business of actually governing or, indeed, winning elections at all.
“I think we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors […] they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about,” said Christie. “For our ideas to matter we have to win. And if we don’t govern all we do is shout to the wind.”
The tension between those who insist on defending their principles at every turn and those who are prepared to compromise is a debate that never gets old and will never go away. It is the essence of politics, and we cannot possibly discuss it enough.
Today, however, let us resist the urge to do so (at least directly) and instead confine our attention to the quotation with which we began, “I am going to do anything I need to do to win.”
Not many political figures say such a thing in such a blunt fashion, but then Christie is not generally known for either subtlety or restraint. Indeed, one could reasonably conclude that his rather remarkable success in building a national following has been built on precisely the opposite: He is going to tell you exactly what he thinks, and if you don’t like it, you can shove it.
Because Christie so prides himself on his penchant for straight talk, we are surely entitled to regard the things he says as if he really means them.
In that spirit, let us unpack the precise implications of his “anything to win” pledge.
I note that most public officials do not disclose a victory-at-all-costs attitude in public, including those who probably hold one in private. A leading reason for this is that the notion that one is prepared to achieve a specified ends through any means necessary is usually regarded as an unattractive one, particularly in the case of politicians, who are presumed to be ethically suspect from the first.
What one hopes, in electing a particular person to a particular position, is that he or she possesses some modicum of a moral center. That for all the principles one is prepared to bend for the sake of producing a greater good, there are certain codes that one simply will not violate. That some acts are so morally repulsive that the candidate would sooner lose the election than bring himself to commit them.
It recalls the famous question from the Gospel of Mark, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
To vow to do anything and everything required to win, then, suggests the absence of a soul, or a soul that is rotten to the core. The real world consequences of this are not something to be casually shrugged off.
Ask yourself: Is it likely that someone who abandons any and all scruples in the course of a campaign is suddenly going to regain them once in office? Is it not logical to infer that someone who will do “anything it takes” to win will also do anything it takes to govern?
Further, if a man is shown to have no principles he is not willing to abandon for the sake of political expediency, then what point is there in voting for him in the first place? Can a man whose political views are only as good as the present situation allows truly be said to have political views at all?
You may vote for someone because you agree with his position on a particular matter, but what reason have you to trust that his position will not change at a moment’s notice, and possibly never change back?
To be sure, these are necessary questions to ask about anyone running for high (or low) office, and it is the reason why a person’s character is an essential thing to bear in mind when weighing one candidate against another.
The difference with Christie—at the risk of repeating myself—is that he has taken the unusual step of announcing his untrustworthiness in advance, for all the world to hear.
One could go ahead and vote for the guy anyway, justifying it in any number of ways. However, should Christie prove himself a man of his word by proving that he is, in fact, not a man of his word, one is no longer entitled to be surprised.