What the Christie Craze Means

What the Christie Craze Means

By David Paul Kuhn - October 4, 2011

It would have been more difficult for Chris Christie to win the Republican nomination than defeat Barack Obama. Yet if he won his party’s support, he was the most likely next president. Christie would have been the general election favorite. He was Obama’s nightmare opponent.

But the New Jersey governor, once and for all, has offered the definitive no. He stood before the cameras Tuesday afternoon and made it official. “Now is not my time,” he said.

The media’s Christie Watch reached absurd proportions in recent days. The speculation made the 2012 presidential election the top news story over the past week, according to the Pew Research Center. That speculation says more about modern American politics than Christie’s personal potential, however substantive it was.

The first-term governor was strong where the most likely Republican nominees are weak. Christie was a Rorschach test for conservatives’ continued unease with the current GOP field. He represented another white knight for the still-influential GOP establishment. Republican graybeards see a presidential election that is theirs to win. And there remains concern within the ranks that the current contenders are vulnerable enough to lose it.

In strategic terms, Christie was a man with reach into two electoral worlds. Conservatives admired the fiscal hawk with gritty character. Moderates, once they knew him, would have admired this non-doctrinaire and candid candidate.

“Once and for all, it ends the premise that the Giulianis and Patakis can jump in and live up to the ideology of the contemporary Republican Party, a pretty rigid party,” said Ed Rollins, who rose to prominence managing Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign and most recently spearheaded Michele Bachmann’s bid. “The one unique thing about Christie: We have always had an establishment wing, which [Mitt] Romney represents, and a conservative wing, which [Rick] Perry represents. Christie could stand in both camps.”

Christie’s potential appeal, where character might have compensated for some of his moderate stances, was in this sense Reaganesque.

“It was, it was,” Rollins agreed.

Obama is an especially vulnerable president. Numerous Republicans could defeat today's weak incumbent, a point underlined when his approval rating first broke the 40 percent floor. But modern elections tend to sort America’s two political tribes. It’s plausible Obama will crawl into the high 40s as the general election campaign escalates. That, combined with the realities of the 2012 electoral map, means an old axiom will reassert itself: Presidential elections are won in the middle.

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David Paul Kuhn is a writer who lives in New York City. His novel, “What Makes It Worthy,” will be published in February 2015.

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