Is Chris Christie right to leave voters guessing?


Chris Christie is leaving voters guessing as to whether or not he’ll run for president.

Politico reported Saturday that the brash-talking governor was at least listening to their pleas. He has reportedly told these won’t-take-no-for-an-answer donors that he’ll let them know in a week whether he’s changed his mind. Christie has even made the comment himself that there’s room for another entrant in the race.

Whether or not he’ll actually do it, or should, remains an open question. While it’s normal for future candidates to act coy and even issue denials to keep one’s name in the news—Sarah Palin being exhibit A, though everyone does it to some extent—Christie’s denials have been emphatic, perhaps even to a fault. In September 2010 he said there’s “no way” would he run, even criticizing those “weasel words” people use to pretend they’re not running when they really are. In June he said he’s 100-percent certain he’s not running. This is a man who’s even asked whether he had to threaten to commit suicide to convince people he wasn’t going to join the race.

Perhaps most damaging, he’s said that he doesn’t feel ready in his heart to run. If he does decide to run, this statement could come back to haunt him. His opponents—or should he win the nomination, the president’s campaign staffers—are sure to use those statements to raise questions about his leadership experience. After all, this is a man who’s served as governor for little more than a year, while his leading rivals would be Perry, who has spent 11 years as the governor of one of the nation’s largest states, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who led the Bay State for four years and Bain Capital for 14.

Even more concerning for Christie and his supporters? How that statement could be used to raise questions about whether he wants to be president at all. Most voters understand that there’s a certain amount of acting coy for the cameras that goes on at the beginning of a race to keep one’s name in the spotlight. But Christie’s bolder-than-usual denials about running and his statement about where his heart is could leave many wondering whether he’s capable of taking on what’s easily the world’s hardest job. After telling Diane Sawyer in April that he didn’t know if he felt “ready in his heart to be president,” he went on to say “I don’t want to, you know, participate in the vanity exercise just because people ask me to do it or because people say, ‘You could win.’ ”

Of course, Christie can always say he’s changed his mind. But the narrative of being lured into the job by wealthy, elite GOP backers like Ken Langone or David Koch is not likely to help him much with voters. As I’ve written before, I’d guess most people would like to think that someone running to be leader of the free world be someone who actually feels compelled to do the job. True leaders aren’t persuaded to go for an opportunity because there’s good money in it, or because they’re set up to win, or because a bunch of billionaires ask them to. They take it because they can’t imagine doing anything else.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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