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Chris Christie's immigration problem

The task of appealing to the American mainstream and GOP presidential primary voters isn't easy. Just ask the governor of New Jersey.
In this Nov. 22, 2013 file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a McCain Institute forum event, in Phoenix.
In this Nov. 22, 2013 file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a McCain Institute forum event, in Phoenix.
Shortly after his landslide re-election victory, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) hit the Sunday shows, where he was asked for his opinion on comprehensive immigration reform. The Republican governor, who's cultivated a reputation as a fearless straight-talker, ducked -- Christie, who'd already endorsed the policy in years past, suddenly refused to speak his mind.
It was an unsettling display of cowardice, but it was also a reminder that Christie has no idea what to do with this issue. On the one hand, the New Jersey chief executive wants to appeal to Latino voters and the American mainstream. On the other, he has national ambitions and realizes his party's radicalized base has no tolerance for bipartisan immigration solutions.
This week, the tension is playing out in an awkward way. Christie already endorsed a "tuition equality" policy that would offer in-state tuition to New Jersey students, even if they entered the country illegally. But when lawmakers moved forward on a bill that would do exactly that, the governor balked, threatened a veto, and insisted this doesn't count as a flip-flop.
The editorial board of the Star Ledger, the state's largest newspaper, is unimpressed.

If Gov. Chris Christie thinks voters won't notice if he promises one thing when he's running for governor, then another when he's running for president, he's dreaming. Yet that's what he appears to be doing when it comes to the Dream Act. When the governor was seeking the Latino vote weeks ago, he assured advocates he'd support New Jersey's version of this bill. But now that he's been re-elected with 51 percent of the Hispanic vote, he's backpedaling. Christie told a radio station last week that he would not sign the Dream Act, which passed the state Senate and is expected to be taken up soon by the Assembly, for reasons that make no sense.

This isn't a sustainable approach. For one thing, vetoing legislation he endorsed, for reasons that fall somewhere between unpersuasive and incoherent, will satisfy no one. Presidential primary voters will disapprove of his stated position; immigration advocates will be offended by reversal, and everyone will notice his brazenness.
For another, a pattern is clearly emerging of Christie running away whenever the going gets tough.
As we discussed last month, as the U.S. policy in Syria reached a crisis point, Christie refused to take a stand. When New Jersey’s legislature approved a gun-safety measure he asked for, Christie vetoed it. When it came time to schedule a Senate special election, Christie picked a Wednesday in October because he was too afraid to be on the same ballot as Cory Booker.
Now he's ready to veto an immigration policy he's already endorsed.
The governor clearly wants to be thought of as a tough, straight-talking, no-nonsense leader. It's a shame the real Chris Christie keeps getting in the way of his so-called "brand."