By now we've all heard about CopterGate; Chris Christie taking a State helicopter from Trenton to his son's baseball game, and then taking the copter back to Trenton to meet with a delegation from Iowa trying to get the Governor to jump into the Presidential Race. Since neither trip was for State purposes, critics cried foul.
Practically speaking, this should have been a non-event. The helicopters have to fly a certain amount of hours for training, so they would have been in the air anyway. And, reportedly, Christie uses the helicopter much less frequently than did his immediate Democratic predecessors.
But this is not a practical issue. This is an exercise in branding.
There are three legs to the Republican Party, the fiscal conservatives, the social conservatives and the small government advocates. Christie is a favorite of all three legs -- not only has he cut the budget and laid off government workers, he has also defunded all women's health centers because three provided abortions and has come out against gay marriage (no pun intended).
Truth be told, there are fiscal conservatives and small government advocates outside of the Republican party. Like me, for instance. The biggest reason I'm not a member of the Republican party is because I cannot join forces with the social conservative wing of the party.
So any chance Christie opponents can get to either (i) play up Christie's social conservative values, making him unattractive to independents like me, or (ii) attack Christie's bona fide credentials as a fiscal conservative or a small government advocate, making him less attractive to all of his fans, they are going to jump. This is in addition to efforts such as Loretta Weinberg's repeatedly making the Governor veto bills for women's health centers, and the Democrats repeatedly making the Governor veto a millionaire's tax, because they want to make the Governor unattractive to women and blue collar workers, i.e., Democrats.
The attention to the Governor's helicopter trip was an attempt to reach into the Governor's own base and show him to be a big government guy, taking advantage of his perks as Governor while causing middle class pain.
And this does strike at a weak spot of the Governor. As a U.S. Attorney, Christie was repeatedly cited for staying at hotels more luxurious and expensive than other Attorneys General, i.e., repeatedly taking expensive perks for himself and his staff on the public dime.
But Christie opponents continue to miss the biggest chink in the Governor's Republican bona fides, which is his continued expansion of the State's Executive Branch. Christie has repeatedly said he will use his power as Governor to the full extent of his Consitutional powers. He has sacked a State Supreme Court Justice for purely political reasons, an unprecedented step; he has taken over various independent watchdog agencies; he has taken over Atlantic City; he sought to limit the amounts municipalities can choose to pay their school superintendents, expanding State power; and he fired the Newark School Superintendent for no reason other than he wanted to to make room for Michelle Rhee, who ultimately turned down the job. These are not the actions of a small government advocate, yet no one has successfully connected the dots to call the Governor on his expansion of State power.
So tilt at helicopters if you will, but at least notice the big stuff.