Republican elites — journalists, operatives, consultants, elected officials — love Chris Christie.
They liked his (somewhat) conservative and ultimately successful gubernatorial campaign, where he took down one of their greatest foes — Wall Streeter turned progressive champion Jon Corzine, in a state they rarely can be happy about, New Jersey.
And they really adored Christie’s tough talk on unions and budget deficits, especially since he took office in January of last year.
So it’s not a surprise, per se, that they have aggressively tried to woo for him to jump in the race for their party’s 2012 presidential nomination. What’s more shocking is that, months into the race, despite Sherman-esque denials of interest by the New Jersey governor and polls showing a primary electorate increasingly happy with its choices, every time an announced candidate flubs a line or misspeaks in a debate, the elites go ballistic and try to convince Christie, again, to run.
They’re likely wasting their time.
“He [Christie] was here at Ryder University last week with [Indiana Governor] Mitch Daniels,” said Ben Dworkin, director of The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. “There was nothing in that program that we had that gave any indication he would run. I think you had a confluence of two things happening: Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie were on the same stage in the morning. And that night, you had a Republican debate in which a lot of the leading candidates were roundly panned. And the media have gone on a frenzy since then.”
Dworkin was extremely skeptical of a Christie bid, though the governor running in 2016 was a noteworthy possibility, he said.
Christie is getting a lot of buzz despite unorthodox positions on some issues. In the era of the Tea Party, though, sometimes positions matter less than rhetoric and personality.
Republicans get “the sense that Christie is a scrapper,” said Rick Wilson, a veteran GOP strategist. “He’s a guy who’s willing to go out and mix it up and blow things up and get the job done. We’re electing a Republican nominee who’s going to be required to have the fortitude to go out and kick the holy hell out of Barack Obama every day for a year. Republican base voters saw John McCain pull his punches, but they want a smart, electable fighter [like Christie].”
Wilson said some of Christie’s moderate stances, like favoring some gun control and acknowledging climate change, would be challenged by conservatives were he to make a run. But a strong economic message would help him overcome that.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate. The secret here for Republicans is don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
He remained dubious of the possibility that Christie would actually dive in, however.
“My criminology of Christie’s speech is this is a guy who’s not doing it,” said Wilson. “Christie is certainly a guy who has a degree of charisma and a degree of mojo, that in the party right now, people find very appealing. But I still think it’s a dead letter at this point. He’s saying what he’s said all along, which is he’s not in this thing.”
Christie’s political standing in his home state has wavered and then recovered over the last two years; recent polls show him back at about the 50 percent mark and observers of politics in the Garden State said he has played surprisingly well with the left-of-center electorate.
“It’s pretty impressive that he’s as popular as he is,” said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.
He, too, was skeptical of a Christie bid, but said if the governor did get in, he’d likely excel.
“It’s easy to think of people like Fred Thompson last time around or Rick Perry this time around who seem great and then crumble. I think that would be much less likely to happen. I think he’s incredibly skilled at adapting to situations and learning quickly and hitting the ground running.”
To review, here’s a nifty video put together by the folks over at Politico that Christie referenced himself this week in an attempt to squash speculation about him running:
“People are never entirely satisfied with the field until there is a nominee,” added Mark McKinnon, George W. Bush’s top media strategist in 2000 and 2004. “But by the time the nominee takes the stage at the convention, everyone stands together and salutes. Nevertheless, in the current volatile environment, it’s not too late to get in and anything could still happen.”