New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made the right decision just in time. He was getting past the point when people (especially his opponents) would start asking: If he is this indecisive about whether he wants to run for president, how decisive would he be if he actually became president? Now, that question will go away.
I always felt in my bones that he wouldn’t run. As I wrote last week, “I think he has meant it all those times when he said he wasn’t ready to run for president. . . . I think he is an old-neighborhood New Jersey guy and has an instinctive sense that he can’t count on having all the love he enjoys now once he jumps into the race. Maybe nobody can resist having some of the richest and most influential people in the country tell you that you should be president. I just have a feeling that Christie has a street sense that protects him from falling for this stuff easily.” It turns out that he does.
His should-I-or-shouldn’t-I musings were becoming very dangerous to him. Christie’s decisiveness and claims to strong leadership are seen by his supporters as his biggest assets. He actually strengthened his decisiveness credentials by being so clear and resolute earlier this year in stating as flatly and clearly as possible that he did not want to run for president this time around.
Christie’s emphatic “no” undoubtedly increased the number of people who wanted him to say “yes.” We seem to like people who don’t actually want to run for president. They seem, somehow, more sane and principled than the poor souls willing to go through all the effort and face all the insults in order to get the job. Personally, I don’t buy that, but I can see why others do.
Christie also faced the problem, according to this morning’s Wall Street Journal, that he gave assurances to supporters of other candidates that he had no intention of running for president. The Journal reported that, as a condition of “hosting a high-priced fund-raiser” for Christie’s gubernatorial campaign fund, Meg Whitman, the newly appointed chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, asked for and received such a promise in September. Whitman is supporting Mitt Romney for president. How many such promises did Christie make? He decided he shouldn’t break them, and that was smart, too.
And a hat tip to Chuck Todd of NBC News, who told me last week that Christie had been under pressure to run for governor in 2005 and decided that the time was not right. Christie’s victory in 2009 vindicated his own sense that he knew himself and knew when an opportunity was really there and when it wasn’t. Chuck’s theory was that Christie was most likely to go with his gut again — and that turned out to be true.
Two other things: My hunch is that Christie realized he was “too liberal” for the current Republican Party in his views on gun control and in his admirable defenses of the rights of Americans who are Muslim. And he probably agreed with Republican consultant Mike Murphy, who noted that the big New York donors who promise to raise scads of money often disappear when the time comes to put up the cash. They promise the moon and can’t be counted on even to buy a telescope.
Smart Republican operatives are already talking about how difficult it would have been to mount a serious campaign on such short notice. They were right. But I think the bigger threat to Christie would have been to go back on such strong statements that he didn’t want to run. Flip-flopping on the matter of whether he would run or not would have hurt his brand to its very core.
And while this story is still alive, I can’t resist weighing in (forgive me for that) on the matter of whether Christie is too overweight to be president. This is one of a very small number of issues with which I was heavily on Christie’s side. It didn’t stop William Howard Taft, did it? But if you knew me, you might cite Margaret Thatcher, who is widely quoted as having said in a completely different context: “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”