The problem with Chris Christie’s leadership test

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So did Chris Christie "knock it out of the park" with his convention speech last night, as the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran predicted he would?

Not quite.

(Moran's post-speech verdict: "not the home run that Chris Christie had hoped for.") 

Christie's theme, illustrated by examples drawn from his productive first term as governor, was that leadership requires unpopular choices.

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"Our leaders today ... have decided it's more important to be popular and say and do what's easy and say yes rather than to say no, when no is what is required," he said.

He talked about cutting taxes in New Jersey, and taking on public-sector unions over pensions and the teachers unions over tenure.

He offered these feats, and implicitly, his continuing popularity, as evidence that people "rewarded politicians who led instead of politicians who pandered."

Leaders, he explained in the speech's big payoff, change the results of polls rather than following them.

You could quibble here with his political analysis of the Jersey stuff. Christie outmaneuvered the unions, thanks to the help he got from two of the state's most powerful Democratic bosses. But he was hardly going uphill, from a public-opinion standpoint, on any of the issues he mentioned. (Tax revolutions in New Jersey are directed against people who raise them, not lower them.)

But the real question is what any of that has to do with Mitt Romney, the person Christie was ostensibly there to help elect.

Whatever Romney's positive attributes as a politician and a person are, a willingness to buck his political circumstances is not one of them.

He was as liberal as he needed to be to win in Massachusetts and as conservative as he needed to be in this year's presidential primary. This is true of Romney on economic issues (he was for universal health care before he was against it) and social issues (he was for abortion rights before he was against them).

In fact, it's hard to find a politician, in either party, who has more reverence for the findings of polls, or a greater willingness to adjust his principles to comport with them.

Christie's remarks about popularity versus respect, obviously, were aimed at Barack Obama. But by setting a standard for leadership that's based on a willingness to stay the course even in the face of popular resistance, he wasn't doing Mitt Romney any favors, at all.