Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Monday, October 24, 2016

Republicans spent most of 2011 pretending that Mitt Romney wouldn’t be their nominee for president. And when the 2012 primaries began, they did everything they could to damage their nominee before he could get to the general election.

The race for the 2016 GOP nomination is starting to hint at a remarkably similar shape.

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), fresh off his landslide re-election, is leading the pack of contenders to represent the Republican Party in the next presidential election. With 24 percent of the vote, he’s ahead of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) at 13 percent, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) at 11 percent and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) with 10 percent in a new CNN poll. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) round out the frontrunners.

Like Romney and unlike his competitors, Christie has never been “a Tea Party favorite.” And with a little less than half of Republican primary voters not identifying with that movement, the governor is fighting for one half of the base as his several opponents wrestle for the other.

The Tea Party’s big mistake was not uniting behind any one candidate after Rick Perry’s debate performances disqualified him. Instead, they fled from Not-Romney to Not-Romney, disparaging their eventual nominee’s key legislative accomplishment and business record as one candidate after another failed to dethrone him.

With so many heroes of the Tea Party movement in the running, it appears that history could be on repeat. The New Republic‘s Nate Cohn suggests that Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) could be the candidate to unite the party — even if he isn’t even cracking the top six in the CNN poll. Much of Walker’s appeal will depend on how badly the GOP wants a Non-Christie.

The current governor of New Jersey has some decided advantages over the former governor of Massachusetts, even if their first terms were both marked by marginal economic gains.

First of all, Christie was re-elected in a blue state — a feat that Romney didn’t even attempt to complete, after winning election with less than 50 percent of the vote.

The Garden State’s governor is a natural, possibly even a Clinton-esque, campaigner who knows when to triangulate against both sides of the aisle. He — like George W. Bush before him — feels confident in running against an unpopular Congress, even if his party controls the bottom house. And he has never been pro-abortion rights, though his dabbling in gun control may put a similar crack in his conservative credibility.

Christie wasn’t the godfather of Obamacare — but he did split the health reform baby by accepting Medicaid expansion while refusing to build a health care exchange for his state.

As the governor’s frontrunner stance firms, the attacks on him will grow more severe. Already he’s facing questions about his lobbying activities, which include slight connections to Bernie Madoff, and conservatives are blasting him for “bizarre behavior,” such as possibly not supporting the opponent of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) even as Christie serves as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Republicans only united around Mitt Romney after they failed to destroy him. The question now is whether they’ll make the same mistake twice.  And if Christie succeeds in uniting the party, then the question becomes if he’ll continue to follow Romney’s flip-flopping path of not revealing what he actually feels about immigration reform until he loses the presidency.

Photo: Bob Jagendorf via Flickr

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    So what Jason is implying is that the Republicans are trying to undermine their presumptive candidate every way they can, then wondering why their nominated candidate cannot get their own rank and file to back him. Gee. When you spend an entire year denigrating the guy who is gonna be your candidate, do you really expect the people you spent the last year saying “anybody but Dingus” to are suddenly going to embrace Dingus when he wins the nomination?

  • FT66

    Chris Christie has no chance at all to tear down the wall of crazy Teabaggers. They managed to shutdown the government of the entire nation, and one thinks they can’t pull down this man regardless of his size! If Christie is smart enough, he should not waste his time and energy to give it a try. Unfortunately, his dreams won’t be met.

  • jointerjohn

    It is challenging when the only national level figures in your party who can get to big media microphones hold only two basic talents, tearing the other guy down and talking crazy crap. With even more voters now dis identifying with the republican party because they moved too far right, getting a viable candidate to the nomination is now even more difficult. As I see it, to avoid a repeat of 2012 when they had to run hard right and then turn center at the nomination point, the best thing would probably be to rise up as the republican who will “take the party back”. Go ahead and stare down the Tea Party, and hope that those disaffected moderates out there will come back home for you.

  • OKsettledown

    I have never understood why candidates pander to the far side of their party, whether liberal or conservative. A far-right Republican, a Tea Partier, will never, ever, vote for a Democrat. They might just stay home, but they will not vote for what they consider a “liberal scumbag.” So I don’t get it. Will someone explain this to me?

  • 788eddie

    Jason is right; Christie has his pluses – not being tied to the creation of an ObamaCare-like health program for one. He also seems to show he can “reach out to the other side” like with his warm welcome to the President after Sandy. He is not as radical as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. He’s probably one of the best the Republican Party has to offer.

    However, i Don’t think he will end up with the nomination. It will be interesting to see the primary fighting among Republicans. In the end, I believe Chris Christie will end up being just like Mitt; and “also-ran.”

  • James Bowen

    There is no popular support whatsoever for giving illegal aliens privileges that most American citizens don’t even have. All the support for amnesty and favors for illegal aliens come from big business who want cheap labor and their ethnic lobby fronts, along with a few naive people who want to be thought of as progressives.

  • howa4x

    Don’t drink the cool aide on Christie. He only won by a landslide because the democratic party in the state made a deal with him to keep legislative control. They put up a sacrificial lamb to face him. They didn’t throw much support her way with some powerful democratic county leaders actually coming out publically against her. Not every state’s democratic party will be as cynical and corrupt as NJ’s is, and if a strong candidate on their side emerges they will support her/him. Meanwhile Christie is burnishing his conservative credentials. He voted his own gun law to placate the tea party in NH, repealed the earned income tax credit which helps the working poor, defunded the state contribution to planned parenthood, and closed some state run family planning centers. Many Republican governors except the truly doctrinaire, and delusional, are excepting the Medicaid expansion so that is not an issue. The real one is that he didn’t set up the state exchanges thereby not helping those who don’t qualify for Medicaid but are in need of health care access. This will hurt him in the general election the more the ACA becomes a success in other states.
    He talks a good line about Jobs but the 2.1 billion tax in breaks he gave to corporations really didn’t change the unemployment picture. We are still 44th in the country in Job creation but 2.1 billion poorer. He tried to give the 1% plus a tax break but the legislature stopped him. He also gave the feds back 400 million that was supposed to be used to sink another tunnel under the Hudson to NYC, which cost the state thousands of jobs .
    As for his great stand against the House on super storm Sandy funds, the firm he hired to distribute the aid still hasn’t got it out to the people who need it 1 year plus after the storm
    He also vetoed same sex marriage which was finally made legal by the courts, and is dragging his feet on Medical MJ.
    He is committing the same mistake as Romney by trying to look more conservative. All the positions he is taking now will come back to haunt him, like they did to Romney. The tea party and evangelicals make up just 14% of the electorate each, cancelled out by the gospel left and progressives also at 14% each. The middle is 51%. With the Pope citing income inequality as the issue of the faithful, all republicans will have a tougher go of it. Especially Christie.

  • Elliot J. Stamler

    As a New Yorker let me comment that whom Christie “supports” as candidate for Governor of NY will mean absolutely nothing to NY voters. And if Christie actually crossed the state line to campaign for Astorino, the Republican candidate, it would not influence one marginal vote. Christie will use a pro forma statement of support for Astorino-and if he does come to campaign it would only be to gather support from the pathetic NY Republican Party for his prospective presidential bid. Gov. Cuomo will be reelected and you can take that to the bank.