The 2012 election’s October Surprise arrived when Hurricane Sandy made landfall and brought the campaign to a halt. The real surprise, however, is how the narrative was so radically altered by the tropical storm’s progress through New Jersey and how Governor Chris Christie so quickly changed his mind about the president. Until the heavens opened, no Mitt Romney surrogate was more scathing and personally disrespectful toward the president than Christie, whose down-to-earth appeal to blue collar voters was considered so important by GOP strategists he was awarded the keynote address at the convention that crowned Romney the party’s candidate.
In a withering assault in Tampa, Christie called for clear, decisive leadership. “Leadership delivers. Leadership counts. Leadership matters,” he said. “It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House.” Christie was back on the attack in Richmond, Virginia, last week, making fun of Obama’s failure to lead. Addressing the president’s complaint that Washington politics-as-usual had hampered his ability to govern, Christie taunted him, saying, “You’ve been living inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the last four years. If you don’t think you can change Washington from inside the White House, let’s give you the plane ticket back to Chicago you’ve earned.”
Few other Romney surrogates, and certainly not the mechanical Romney himself, could batter the president with such effect. Christie went on to describe Obama as “like a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership and he just can’t find it” and “blindly walking around the White House looking for a clue.” Then on Monday came Sandy’s 90 miles-an-hour gusts hosing millions of gallons of salt water on the sentimental Christie’s beloved Jersey Shore, the place where the governor grew up and went to high school.
Thanks to Sandy, Christie the governor engaged with Obama the chief executive and the election turned on a dime. Everywhere you looked on TV Tuesday morning, Christie was extolling the president’s leadership skills. On CBS’s “Good Morning” he said the president’s response had been “excellent” and he “can’t thank the president enough” for coming to Jersey’s aid. That afternoon, Christie told the press, “We appreciate the president’s efforts,” adding, “I appreciate that type of leadership.” Christie let slip he had spoken to Obama a number of times on the president’s private line. He plainly liked what he heard. Christie Tweeted, “I want to thank the president personally for all his assistance.”
Most devastating to the Romney campaign, impotently standing by as Obama took charge of events, Christie appeared on the Fox News breakfast show with its audience of 1.5 million overwhelmingly Republican-voters. Asked whether Romney would be visiting Jersey to see the devastation for himself, Christie snapped, “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I have got a job to do here in New Jersey that is much bigger than presidential politics. And I could care less about any of that stuff.” You could almost hear the Romney camp spew out their cups of morning Joe.