Chris Christie suspends his presidential campaign. Will anyone fill the void in the Republican field?
Of all the Republican presidential candidates, only Chris Christie has argued forcefully and consistently for generational justice. Not only was he the first candidate to propose serious entitlement reform, but he correctly argued that such reform was central to generational “fairness.” Today, the entitlement programs transfer wealth from younger Americans to poorer older Americans who need it as well as wealthy older Americans who do not. Mr. Christie proposed means-testing to eliminate the inherent generational unfairness in this system – a notably progressive idea that many progressives dislike. He also highlighted the generational injustice inherent in an entitlement system that, without reform, will massively increase the debt burden on future generations and fail to deliver benefits to those who need them. Although his generational justice credentials were undermined by tax reform proposals that would have increased the debt and a lack of enthusiasm for environmental protection, he was a Republican candidate who cared about the interests of younger Americans.
Younger New Hampshire voters, however, did not care for Mr. Christie. On Tuesday, Mr. Christie finished a disappointing 6th in the New Hampshire Republican Primary. Notwithstanding his generational justice credentials, he fared quite poorly with younger voters (ages 18-44). On Wednesday, Mr. Christie suspended his presidential campaign.
Mr. Christie’s withdrawal from the presidential campaign is a real loss for those voters who care about generational justice, and reduces the number of Republicans with entitlement reform plans by half. The only remaining Republican candidate with similarly strong credentials on this issue is Jeb Bush, although his entitlement reform proposals are also undermined by his tax reform plans. Mr. Bush seems an unlikely standard-bearer for the young, having failed to excite younger voters in New Hampshire on his way to a fourth-place finish.
What is a younger, Republican-leaning voter who cares about her future to do? First, wait to see if Mr. Christie endorses another Republican candidate. If he does, there is a good chance that his preferred candidate will also champion meaningful entitlement reform. Second, although the fat lady may be doing her vocal exercises, it is too early to count out Mr. Bush. He could do well in South Carolina and continue his campaign through Super Tuesday. Lastly, although he has largely avoided entitlement reform since bluntly and brusquely telling an audience in October to “get over” the likelihood of future benefit cuts, Mr. Kasich may pick up the torch on this issue once again to attract Christie and Bush supporters while further contrasting his positions with those of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. If younger voters want to reward a candidate who is not only candid, unsparing, and unscripted, but also cares about their futures, they should take a closer look at Mr. Kasich.