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Can a Bromance Save the Republican Party?

An unlikely friendship is brewing in the Republican Party between John Kasich, Republican Governor of Ohio, and Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey. Kasich was first elected in 2010 after serving in the United States House of Representatives for nine consecutive terms. He served as Chairman of the House Budget Committee and was a major contributor to the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which led to the budget surplus. After leaving Congress in 2000, Kasich was a frequent contributor on Fox News and worked for Lehman Brothers Bank before the company went bankrupt. Christie, on the other hand, was first elected in 2009 and reelected in 2013. For the first half of his career he was a practicing lawyer who ran for various county positions, mostly unsuccessfully. He transitioned into politics by becoming a state level lobbyist and being former President George W. Bush’s campaign lawyer in New Jersey during the 2000 election. Christie was nominated for the US Attorney for the District of New Jersey by George W. Bush and was the subject of much controversy and speculation. Regardless, his work in that position was widely respected and became the basis for his gubernatorial election.

Christie and Kasich have fairly different political backgrounds, but developed a friendship in 2010, when Christie visited Ohio to campaign with Kasich. New Jersey’s gubernatorial elections are in the off year between Congressional elections (2009 and 2013), which enables Christie to court the usual Republican fundraisers and sitting Republican politicians. While Ohio was not the only state Christie visited, his campaign contribution quickly blossomed into a very public friendship. Kasich told reporters that Christie was “the most popular governor in America” and later that day asked crowds, “Ain’t he a great American leader?”

After Kasich won the gubernatorial race in Ohio, the relationship cooled off — until Christie’s 2013 reelection campaign. Kasich again turned to the media to express his enthusiastic affection for Christie. Sound bites from the two governors sound more like quotes from a Seth Rogen-James Franco bromance film than statements from two Republican governors potentially running for president. “Chris and I are friends. He texts me, we laugh, we bust each other’s chops.” Kasich has even called Christie “a big teddy bear.” Not to be outdone, Christie announced, “I love John Kasich.” (Maybe it was a Love Actually reference?) The affection between the two goes beyond the norms of political alliance and campaign friendship.

Aside from the two governors’ strangely entertaining Facebook status-esque public relations campaign, Kasich and Christie’s friendship has serious relevance in the 2014 election cycle. When Christie was named the chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, Kasich told reporters “Christie is going to do great out there. Are you kidding? Christie, he is like a force now. People want to be around him.”  Christie returned the favor by discussing Kasich’s upcoming reelection campaign and pledging his support by saying “I’ll come to Ohio for John as frequently as he wants me to, and as frequently as I can.” Christie has followed through on that promise and campaigned for Kasich throughout his 2014 race. Looking beyond the 2014 Ohio Gubernatorial race, the Christie-Kasich alliance may prove surprisingly consequential for the Republican Party in the 2016 Presidential election.

In April of 2014, both governors attended a fundraising weekend in Las Vegas. Joined by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the group was responsible for securing major funding for the GOP from Sheldon Adelson, a usual Republican donor who made his billions in the casino industry. It’s an interesting group to represent the Republican Party, made even more interesting with the Christie-Kasich friendship taken into account. The gathering was essentially a who’s who of potential 2016 presidential candidates. Both Christie and Kasich could reasonably enter the Republican presidential primary, as nobody has the nomination locked down. Christie is potentially weak due to Bridgegate and other controversies during his tenures as US Attorney and Governor. Kasich is less well known and would still need to win reelection in November to be strongly considered. The question then becomes: How does their friendship impact both of their potential presidential campaigns?

A Christie-Kasich ticket is unlikely considering their similarities. Both of them are governors from the Northeast — that alone should serve as a significant geographical barrier to winning votes. Additionally, Christie himself has said that the two “get along very well because we have very similar approaches to governing.” As the final nail in their ticket’s coffin, neither has significant foreign policy experience. With the unlikely prospect of a joint White House run seemingly self-evident, the rationale behind this aggressive and blatant friendship appears odd.

It seems as though the pair is adopting  Regan’s infamous adage, “Never speak ill of fellow Republicans.” Instead of infighting and creating fragmentation in their own party, Christie and Kasich might be doing their best to unify the various groups under the umbrella of the Republican Party. The names being thrown around right now for the 2016 nomination are New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. If two of the five have agreed to run positive campaigns that focus on their particular attributes, instead of buying into the campaign norm of the past 10 years and viciously attacking competing Republican candidates, then the GOP’s 2016 prospects could drastically change. The Republican Party cannot endure another 2012 blood bath. The constant negative campaigning purposefully designed to discredit party leadership drastically decreased the party’s legitimacy. Another Michelle Bachman-Rick Perry-Herman Cain-New Gingrich-Jon Hunstman-Rick Santorum-Ron Paul-Mitt Romney mess will further hurt an already crippled party. Kasich and Christie’s friendship could strengthen the Republican Party from the inside, unify the factions, give new life to a staggering institution and perhaps make their 2016 aspirations a reality. In other words, the bizarre twenty-first century bromance brewing between the two governors may be the Republican Party’s best shot at a comeback.

About the Author

A member of the Class of 2017, Brenna is concentrating in Public Policy and Economics.