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Romney Needs Christie to Fight "The Chicago Way"

Romney Needs Christie to Fight "The Chicago Way"

By Tom Bevan - July 17, 2012

"You want to get Capone? Here’s how you get him: He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. THAT’S the Chicago Way.”

Sean Connery as Jim Malone in "The Untouchables"

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama paraphrased this famous movie line at a fundraiser in Philadelphia, trying to demonstrate to his most fervent supporters that he possessed the toughness and grit to respond to any attack leveled by John McCain. But those attacks never materialized, and Obama was able to keep his gun holstered while cruising to the Oval Office.

Four years later, however, Obama is the one who has come out with guns blazing. His campaign has waged a two-month-long, $100 million assault against Mitt Romney in key swing states around the country. Obama’s team stepped up the attack last week by insinuating that Romney committed a felony, and now the president, his staff, and his surrogates are stubbornly sticking to the argument that Romney lied about the length of his tenure at Bain Capital, even though that charge has been refuted by a number of media organizations and even Obama supporters who work at Bain.

Mitt Romney is getting a taste of the Chicago Way. It remains to be seen just how effective these attacks have been, though some, like Joe Klein, believe the presumptive GOP nominee has been crippled by them, while RCP political analyst Sean Trende -- and others -- point out that despite the onslaught the race remains as close as it’s ever been. Still, it’s become clear that Obama and his team are willing to do or say whatever is necessary to try and make this election a choice between the two men and not a referendum on the president’s first term in office.

Romney might want to keep this in mind as he selects a running mate. Rumors are swirling that he'll will make a decision soon -- perhaps as early as this week. There are also published reports that Romney has narrowed his short list down to three choices: Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, and Bobby Jindal.

All three men have various traits to recommend them; each appears qualified to perform the duties of vice president should Romney win in November. What they all lack, however, is what Mitt Romney may need most to counteract The Chicago Way: the kind of conspicuous toughness and natural bellicosity that will be invaluable in fighting back against Obama and his team. At his core, Pawlenty is too “Minnesota nice”; Jindal is more professor than pugilist; and Portman comes across more like Lassie than Cujo.

But Romney is quite familiar with someone who knows a thing or two about brawling -- and has a pretty good record in office as well: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The conventional wisdom is that Christie is too aggressive and too much of a loose cannon to be Romney’s running mate. A video of Christie challenging a random heckler at the Jersey Shore went viral last week and is already becoming a classic on YouTube.

The scene was largely viewed within political circles as a prime example of why Christie would make a problematic running mate. But after getting knocked around himself for the last two weeks, Romney might be inclined toward a more favorable view of Christie’s combativeness.

Obviously, there’s a risk in picking someone as blunt and unscripted as Christie. But the upside is far more significant, especially when viewed against of all of Romney’s “safer choices.” Christie is the person with the stature, the verbal skills, and the star power needed to drive the national narrative in Romney’s favor by taking on Obama and his other favorite hobby horse, the national media.

Although Christie has said he’d take Romney’s call, he seems fairly convinced that it won’t be coming. “As I’ve said all along, I don’t expect to be asked because, I don’t know, do I look like a vice president?" Christie said yesterday when asked again whether he would be picked.

The answer to that question, in a word, is no: Christie looks like an enforcer. But that’s what Romney needs. 

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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