In a luncheon speech to Republican party leaders in Boston last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, took a swipe at those who care too much about ideology and not enough about victory. “We are not a debating society,” said Christie. “We are a political operation that needs to win.”
Christie argued persuasively that having the right principles isn’t enough if a party never gets the power to implement them. Alas, as often happens with Christie, he didn’t stop there. “We have some folks that believe that our job is to be college professors,” he snorted. “You know, college professors basically spout out ideas that nobody ever does anything about.”
The Republican National Committee had come to Boston to show its willingness to reach out to constituencies — such as college professors — who traditionally support Democrats. Christie’s putdown of academics surely enhanced his own reputation for shoot-from-the-lip brashness, but did nothing to boost the GOP’s intellectual image.
It is difficult to imagine such a comment coming from, say, Ronald Reagan, who turned to academia for some of his most influential advisers, including Georgetown’s Jeane Kirkpatrick and Harvard’s Richard Pipes. “The GOP has become a party of ideas,” wrote Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1980, with some envy. Sometimes the most consequential ideas of all are the ones that scholars “spout” in college classrooms. That’s something any political leader should understand. Especially one who hopes to be president.