Fat chance: Can Chris Christie restore the sanity of the Republican party?

Mr Christie has shown what is possible for a temperate Republican promising pragmatism
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Attempts to draw national conclusions from the outcome of a smattering of local elections can be a dangerous game. But the gubernatorial races in the US on Tuesday night are surely the exception that proves the rule.

In New Jersey, incumbent Republican Chris Christie romped to a second term despite his state’s long-standing Democratic leanings. The secret of his success? Support from two-thirds of independents and more than three in 10 Democrats, a feat that involved winning over not just the Latino vote but also significant numbers of women and African-Americans.

Mr Christie’s acceptance speech, with its barbed references to the Washington dysfunction that so recently shut down the government and took the US to the brink of a default on its debts, could hardly have been clearer. “We stand here tonight showing that it is possible to put doing your job first. To put working together first. To fight for what you believe in yet still stand by our principles and get something done for the people who elected you.”

Strong stuff. Stronger still given that in nearby (Republican) Virginia, voters were baulking at the prospect of Tea Party firebrand Ken Cuccinelli, preferring a far from prepossessing Democrat, Terry McAuliffe. Few doubt that a more restrained Republican would have won.

The implications are inescapable. If there was ever a question as to whether Tea Party purism would strike a chord with mainstream America, it has now been answered. Instead, Mr Christie has shown what is possible for a temperate Republican promising pragmatism.

Thus far, the New Jersey governor has been coyly non-committal about the 2016 presidential elections. After this week’s win, he certainly looks like a shoo-in for the Republican candidacy. He is not, of course. In part because so much might happen in the meantime; but also because primaries favour the extremes.

If the Republicans are to stand a chance in 2016, they need Mr Christie’s brand of moderation. Whether his colleagues are willing to give him the opportunity is another matter entirely.