Chris Christie the candidate to beat in 2016? Not so fast.
Chris Christie may well be the next Republican presidential nominee. He could quite possibly win the White House in 2016.
But it’s a long way from here to there and the congealing conventional wisdom of Christie as the Man To Beat (in an election still more than two years off) is not only terribly premature but structurally as worthy as a house built of pickup sticks.
The New Jersey governor has plenty of things going for him, not least a return address outside the Beltway and a sneering contempt for Washington’s way of doing business that is shared by just about every sentient being in the United States.
He has a lucrative Wall Street fundraising base and an unparalleled opportunity, as incoming head of the Republican Governors Assn., to travel the country and sell the Christie brand -- all in the greater service of the GOP, of course.
He enjoys the support of a not-insignificant segment of the party convinced that the governor’s blend of fiscal tightfistedness and muted stance on social issues -- he’s antiabortion and opposes same-sex marriage but is no crusader -- are the perfect antidote to the undiluted, anti-government conservatism served up by the Republican’s tea party wing.
For all of that, however, there are questions about Christie’s persona -- what happens when Midwest Nice meets the Trenton Tempest? -- and an abiding hostility toward the governor among tea partiers and many social conservatives, a constituency that holds significant sway in the GOP nominating process.
Moreover, there are a whole raft of allegations -- involving cronyism, work as a lobbyist, extravagant expense-account living, among other matters -- that helped dissuade Mitt Romney from choosing Christie as his 2012 running mate, according to the recent campaign chronicle “Double Down.”
Christie rightly noted in one of his weekend TV appearances that he’s been vetted in prior campaigns and will be again, should he run for president. He can count on it, to the nth degree.
More important is this: Much of the current Christie-mania (at least within the small circle of campaign insiders, political junkies and others who would do well to spend more time outdoors) is predicated on his landslide reelection last week in the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey.
The showing sends an important message, it is said, by replicating the performance of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who romped to reelection in 1998, thus paving his way to the GOP nomination and, ultimately, the White House. Why is this important? Because the shapers and purveyors of the conventional wisdom say so. (Paging Dr. Heisenberg!)
It is worth noting that Bush faced a very weak Republican field in 2000. Vastly more important than posting a big reelection win was the great benefit of a turnkey national fundraising and political-support network inherited from his father, the former president.
The same run-up-the-numbers reelection strategy didn’t do much for Sen. Hillary Clinton when she sought the White House in 2008. The hope was a big 2006 victory -- with strong support in traditionally Republican upstate New York -- would dazzle Democrats with the former first lady’s electability. Not so. (Maybe her supporters around the country were home on caucus and primary days, poring over regression analyses of precincts in Oswego County.)
So just how important is a strong reelection showing for a prospective presidential candidate? Ask Rick Santorum. When last heard from, the former Pennsylvania senator had lost his bid for a third term by 18 percentage points. And yet he was the last man standing against Romney in the 2012 GOP primary fight and, but for several thousand votes in Michigan and/or Ohio, might have kept him from the nomination.
There is one other important asterisk that ought to be attached to Christie’s gaudy reelection win. Much has been made of his strong showing among Latino voters, a group Republicans are desperate to woo, and even African Americans, about the most solid and reliable Democratic constituency there is.
But Christie ran against a Democrat who mounted a laughably weak campaign. Taking his New Jersey showing as a guide to how he might perform in a presidential contest is like taking the Kansas City Chiefs’ running and passing performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and projecting that onto their performance in a potential Super Bowl appearance. (For non-NFL fans, the Chiefs have the best record in pro football and the Bucs, at this writing, have yet to win a game.)
In short, Christie worked hard and won himself a second term in Trenton. He did so in impressive fashion. But it’s a quite a distance from there to the White House.
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