Advancing a Free Society


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I’ll admit: I’m confused.

I’ve been trying to make sense of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political aspirations and, depending on who’s doing to talking, the guv is:

If you thought Christie’s Tuesday night speech at the Reagan Library would offer either clarification or closure, I’m sorry to report: keep guessing.

Christie limited his remarks to “American exceptionalism” – and by that, he meant “Reagan-like leadership” and “the strength of our democratic institutions”, not the strength of his support in Iowa and New Hampshire (click here, for the as-prepared text).

Normally, I avoid predictions about politicians’ ambitions much the same way Woody Hayes, the late Ohio State football coach, avoided putting the ball in the air (“There are three things that can happen when you pass,” Hayes once reflected, “and two of them ain't good.”).

That said, I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that Christie ends up being a no-go.

My reasons why:

  1. Supposing He Jumped In, Where Would He Land? Financial backers have offered Christie loads of encouragement and promises of bushels of campaign cash. But what’s the strategy? Would Christie compete in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina? Or, taking a page from the 2008 Giuliani campaign, would he wait it out until Florida (Oct. 31 deadline to file, btw)? History of late hasn’t been kind to presidential candidates who ran long on electability in a fall election but didn’t have a natural landing spot in an early primary states – didn’t work for Hillary or Rudy; maybe wouldn’t work for Christie.
  2. Mission Incomplete. In New Jersey, 2011 was the year of Christie’s big win on pension reform. Next up: education reform. What would Christie like to achieve in 2012? That depends, in part, on New Jersey’s legislative contests a few weeks from now (the Garden State holds off-year statewide elections). With an outside chance of the GOP gaining control of at least one chamber, the greater the temptation for Christie to stay home and push through an agenda with fewer roadblocks. Conversely, an invigorated Democratic legislature would make life miserable for an absentee Republican governor.
  3. Love from the Right? One reason why the Perry campaign is in a skid: conservatives taking a second look at his Texas immigration record. Would Christie be in for the same rough treatment? Here are five reasons for conservative concern (yes, including illegal immigration).
  4. Unlucky ’13? Let’s suppose you’re Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, still new to Congress, and you’re asked to join the GOP national ticket. The worst-case scenario: having four years, until you face re-election in 2016, to make it up to your constituents. Christie, however, is up for reelection in 2013. His numbers, at the moment, are good (54% approval, up 10% since May). But that could change if he belly-flopped as a national candidate. A wasted 2012 could bleed into his re-election year – a risk he might not want to take.
  5. Losing His Place in Line for 2016. President Obama’s a weakened incumbent, but he’s an incumbent nonetheless -- and betting against his re-election is a little like betting against the house in Vegas. Going back a century to the last 13 contests involving an elected president, the incumbent has won 9 times and lost 4 (three of those, Republicans). Should Obama win, 2016 offers an open seat – and a long list of possible GOP candidates. Christie, coming off a re-election win in 2012, presumably would be at the head of that line. But maybe not so, if he’s tarnished by a failed presidential run.

Like a ping-pong match, the speculation goes back and forth. Christie’s in, he’s out. He’s not running; he’s going out of his way to get noticed.

But sooner or later, the buzz will die down. He’ll run or he won’t.

And then, about whom will we speculate?