Politico reports grumblings out of New Jersey that Governor Chris Christie is mulling the first tentative steps of a Presidential run. Up to now, Christie has been consistently adamant that he isn’t running, but his candidacy was extremely likely even before this revelation.
The bottom line is that if Chris Christie wants to be President, a 2012 run makes the most political sense for three big reasons:
1. Christie is well-positioned to deliver the right message for the times.
The protests in Wisconsin may have been a tipping point for Christie, as they look to be the first in a series of clashes between public sector employees unions and the unfortunate realities of states in the upper Midwest, Northeast, Rust Belt, and West Coast whose tax bases are dwindling and whose budget deficits are expanding. If the abstract concept of reducing government spending was the central theme of 2010, the issue of whom gets what from shrinking government doles will be a recurring discussion leading up to 2012.
How this discussion is framed will go a long way toward deciding how many seats Republicans gain in the Senate and how successful the 2012 GOP candidate is. Unlike many national elections of recent vintage, 2012 has the potential to pose to the voters a meaningful question about the role and size of government.
Christie has already waged this fight in New Jersey (the only GOP candidate who has done so recently). But what’s more important than that has been the direct, unapologetic tone he has used in doing so. With tough financial decisions on the horizon, Christie has become Mr. Tough Love – and unlike most successful politicians, he has not shied from confrontation.
If the momentum from the tea partiers continues into 2012, and there remains a swath of the Republican electorate that still feels government is not working for them, is there a better person to lead the charge against entitlements and special interest groups – and get rank-and-file Republicans excited about it – than Christie?
2. Christie’s larger-than-life personality can go head-to-head versus President Obama.
That isn’t a fat joke. It is a recognition that the sitting President enjoyed a huge charisma advantage over all his opponents in 2008, and the electorate still likes him. Why not? He’s a cool guy, he fills out an NCAA bracket every year, and he jokes around about salmon during his addresses to Congress. More important, he still has a remarkable campaign infrastructure in place and is well-positioned to take on any Republican who can’t provide some level of excitement.
But he also has trouble with confrontation. From the town halls of 2009 to the tea parties of 2010, President Obama has consistently shown that a full frontal assault on his initiatives is the best way to throw him and his administration off their talking points. Christie’s blunt style seems best suited for flustering the President – and making the election narrative follow the script Christie sets out.
3. Christie is popular among Republicans now, but political memories are short.
Hillary Clinton might have been President if she had run in 2004 – President George W. Bush squeaked out a reelection victory over a challenger who looked like a sad puppy, talked like the Mayor from T’was the Night Before Christmas, and provided precious few reasons to switch horses. By 2008, she had become Washington establishment – part of the problem that the Obama campaign sought to solve.
Her husband, of course, beat the first President Bush in 1992, less than two years after the incumbent enjoyed record-high 90% approval ratings.
In between 2012 and 2016, there are plenty of things that could go wrong for Christie. His hold on the blue New Jersey electorate could slip, he could enter into a legislative compromise that sours his standing among social conservatives, or he could simply become yesterday’s news with a lost reelection bid 2013.
Christie running in 2012 isn’t just a convenient answer for Republicans looking for a leader. Second chances in presidential campaigns are rare.
The biggest obstacle to Christie’s candidacy will of course be his promises that he won’t run. His denials have been just as adamant as Barack Obama’s in 2006, and getting around the statement “I swear I’m not running” is one of the easiest maneuvers in politics. If anyone could get away with, “eh, I changed my mind” as a response, Christie’s the one to do it.