The last few debates have featured Rick Perry attacking Mitt Romney over of his record, especially Romneycare, with Romney trying to deflect/excuse it by saying he wasn't playing as strong a hand as Perry (who was in a very Red state with a conservative legislature). If Chris Christie enters the race, he will most likely be assaulted for some of the decisions that he has made as Governor of New Jersey that most conservatives would cringe over. He is also likely to attempt the same excuse as Romney, that he is governing in a blue state and has to make compromises. So how much of his or any Governor's record should we excuse due to their location? How are we to compare a Governor of Texas with a Governor from anywhere in the Northeast?
There are, of course, no easy answers but the way I have started thinking about it is like this: Is the Governor's record as conservative as it could have been, given his circumstances? I think that is what is important as when a Governor becomes President his environment will change and so may his policies. Remember, W's record in Texas was relatively conservative but when he came into office, he became decidedly less conservative than you would have thought with his discretionary spending increases and the creation of the Medicare Part D entitlement. Also, if you look at the record of Jon Huntsman in Utah, it was pretty stellar. However, it is also clear that it was probably stellar just because of his environment and if he won the White House he would be decidedly more liberal (as his support for cap and trade attests). To have a truly safe conservative choice, therefore, you would want someone with a conservative record, who was able to maintain that record despite constant opposition from legislators and voters. Someone like Tim Pawlenty, who despite having a Democratic legislature and a relatively blue or at best purple electorate, was able to have one of the most conservative records for a Governor in the country.
So where do the current crop of candidates stand with regards to this way of thinking about their records? Well, despite what Romney would have you think, he was still way more liberal than he needed to be. I don't seem to remember William Weld trying to provide universal health care. Heck, William Weld got one of the highest grades in the Cato Fiscal Policy Report Card, something Romney was unable to achieve. Rick Perry clearly has a conservative record, but can you really argue he was as conservative as he possibly could have been in a state like Texas? He gets a strong B in the Cato Institute's scoring system, but in a state like that, is there an excuse for not getting an A if you are a true conservative?
Now for Chris Christie. I realize there are quite a few mixed signals on whether he will enter the race or not but I figure I'll discuss him now anyway. Unfortunately, in many ways it is just too early to tell exactly how conservative he is. He has only been Governor for less than 2 years, after all. But so far, I would say he is definitely close to being as conservative as he could be in New Jersey. Taking on the thugs in the unions is difficult in any state, but especially in a state where they are so much a part of the political machine as New Jersey. His conservative credentials have pretty much survived a trial by fire (something you definitely cannot say about Perry or Romney or Huntsman) so in many ways I would be more comfortable with him as President than many of the other candidates. Also, it will be extremely entertaining watching him debate President Teleprompter.