Chris Christie has an Iowa problem. And a New Hampshire and South Carolina one, too. These three states have traditionally been the Republicans’ gateway to their presidential nomination. In the last four contested Republican primaries for president, three of the four eventual nominees — George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and George W. Bush — won two of the three states. Interestingly, Mitt Romney lost two of the three. Republicans will likely amend their nominating process in 2016 to limit the number of debates and to compress the primary season to avoid a repeat of the 2012 fiasco which so weakened Romney. But when either party contemplates reform, New Hampshire and Iowa have always found a way to hold fast, with South Carolina on the Republican side just as firm.
So how does Chris Christie handle this gauntlet of states where, overwhelmingly, the Republican grassroots will view him with deep suspicion. Cozying up to Obama? Christie is guilty. Coveting federal aid? Guilty. Dropping state opposition to gay marriage and being pro-life with exceptions? Guilty and guilty. In other words, Christie’s lack of orthodoxy, his very appeal to establishment Republicans, will make his road rough in the early primaries. A read of the state Republican party platforms in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina gives a clear view of the hard-line views of these states’ activists. Their opposition to abortion is absolute; they favor a human life amendment to the Constitution. As is their opposition to gay marriage. And there are other quirks in these platforms: Iowa’s Republican Party favors a constitutional amendment to guarantee the ability to home school and the teaching of evolution as “only a theory.” South Carolina’s platform makes clear its opposition to laws that would end discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace, which conflicts with Christie’s appointment of the first openly gay member of New Jersey’s Supreme Court.
Like other recent moderate Republican presidential wannabes (Rudy Guiliani, Jon Huntsman), Christie will face the difficult strategic choice of playing hard in early primaries and risk losing, or sit them out and risk losing his allure. He may yet figure a way out of this Republican conundrum, but he would be the first.