It took a tragedy to bring them together, but there they were: President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, arm in arm, complete with bro-to-bro handclasp and shoulder pat a week before the election.
Christie blows almost as hard every day as Sandy blew this week. Yet on Tuesday he stopped long enough to tell ABC News that the president, the same man he derided just a few weeks ago as needing a clue, was "outstanding" and that he had formed a great "partnership" with him.
Christie didn't have to be so grateful or admiring. New Jersey is getting a lot of federal aid, but it's not getting anything it's not entitled to. Christie got his state money for recovery efforts that include infrastructure projects, temporary housing, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property loss and assistance to individuals and businesses.
Now Obama knows the feeling of having the Big Guy at your side. For all his bluster, Christie is a comforting presence. During the Republican presidential primaries, Mitt Romney had his best debate performance on the day that Christie endorsed him and then sat in the audience to watch his candidate.
This buddy movie is a campaign ad no amount of money could buy. Christie is treating Obama not as a failed leader but like a commander in chief. And because their partnership is not political, it has had a huge effect on the politics of the moment: a Republican governor rising above partisanship to give credit to a Democratic president, who is locked in a difficult campaign against the man the governor supports.
The timing for Obama couldn't be better. To make the trip to New Jersey, the president had to give up an appearance with another Big Guy, Bill Clinton, in Florida and Iowa. This non-campaign stop more than made up for it. Wearing a FEMA windbreaker, coming to the scene of a catastrophe rather than campaigning, and doing so with a Republican governor (after all, Obama could have gone to see the devastation in New York with Governor Andrew Cuomo): All of it shows the difference between an incumbent and a candidate.
On Tuesday Christie was asked by Fox News if he'd also be giving Romney a tour of the storm-struck areas. "I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested," he said. "If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don't know me."
In September my Bloomberg View colleague Josh Barro wrote that Romney lost the election on the day his dismissive remarks about "the 47 percent" were made public. If Obama wins this election, we may look back at today and say this hug in Brigantine, New Jersey, is the moment that sealed it for him. Obama and Christie made the politics of the presidential campaign look small, and reminded us that politicians care about something more than who's ahead in Ohio.
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