Right Turn is away for the week, but we have been looking at the challenges the likely presidential candidates will face. Today we’ll look at Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. The bridge scandal hasn’t yet amounted to very much, although it bounced him out of a commanding position in the pre-2016 jostling. Assuming he still wants to run, he’ll have his work cut out to recover his image as an electable problem solver. That will mean:
1. Getting a clean bill of health on the investigation. That isn’t in his control and we’ve already seen this thing drag out for months. Whatever the timeline, however, prominent donors won’t sign up with a candidate who has a legal cloud over his head.
2. Pivoting from New Jersey to the world stage. Other candidates have been traveling and developing national security expertise. He’s due to travel to Mexico, which is a good place to start, but he’ll need to find a comfort level on what may be the most important issue of the 2016 election.
3. Being the candidate of the everyman. The GOP has not had a real blue-collar candidate in modern times. The ability to relate to ordinary voters is one of his selling cards. If some of the other contenders are hard-edged and defensive he’s got to be the happy warrior.
4. Running against Beltway dysfunction. The three freshmen senators can rightly be criticized for hurting the party and the country with the shutdown.
5. Developing an agenda that is both concrete and conservative. Bipartisanship is a means not an end.
6. Finding a signature issue that will distinguish him from other Republican governors. Be it school reform or criminal justice reform or entitlement reform, he will need to elevate himself from governors with longer records and more dramatic results on jobs and economic growth.
7. Winning over big donors as the only viable centrist candidate. Things get complicated if Jeb Bush or Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), two favorites of GOP insiders, get into the race. He had that position before the bridge scandal. but his poll numbers have bounced back.
8. Skipping Iowa. His chances of doing well there are minimal and a poor finish casts doubt on his viability. Given that Iowa has a poor record of picking the nominee he would be justified in concentrating on New Hampshire and other more hospitable early states.
9. Inhabiting the Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) role — the accessible candidate who gets free and favorable media. The right wing may not like it, but McCain did win the nomination in 2008. Christie is the most adept of the 2016 hopefuls in informal media settings, and he should use late night shows and other settings to reach beyond the news media and connect with voters who may like him well enough to vote for him, despite their qualms about one or two issues.
10. Turning the reputation of toughness (critics call it “bullying”) into toughness on behalf of taxpayers and ordinary working people and on behalf of the United States in the world. Americans are looking for a stronger figure on the world stage, and Christie can certainly fill the bill provided he couples his “take no guff” demeanor with a sophisticated understanding of the numerous conflicts and challenges the country will face once President Obama is out of office.