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Why Chris Christie knows exactly what he’s doing

at 11:08 AM ET, 09/28/2011

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s speech — and the question and answer period that followed it — at the Reagan Library on Tuesday night was very carefully calibrated to keep the talk about whether he might be reconsidering the 2012 presidential race alive.


(Gov. Chris Christie at the Reagan library./AP)
No, Christie didn’t say he was running. But he also didn’t say he wasn’t running. And that makes all the difference at the moment.

Let’s first look at what Christie did say. After a woman pled with him to run in 2012, he responded:

“That heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. That reason has to reside inside me. That’s what I’ve said all along. I know without ever having met President Reagan that he must’ve felt deeply in his heart that he was called to that moment to lead our country. And so my answer to you is just this, I thank you for what you’re saying.”

Here’s why that answer matters: Given the amount of attention Christie has gotten since Texas Gov. Rick Perry imploded in the second half of last Thursday’s Orlando debate, he and his political team knew a) that every word he uttered in the Reagan speech would be parsed by the national media and b) he would be asked by someone about 2012.

If he really wanted to totally rule out the prospect of bid, Christie could have simply said something to the effect of: “I am so flattered by all of the calls for me to run. It’s a tremendous honor. But my answer is still ‘no’.”

Contrast how Christie is handling the renewed speculation about a national bid with what Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan did last month when his name resurfaced as a potential candidate. Within days, Ryan was out with a statement saying: “While humbled by the encouragement, I have not changed my mind, and therefore I am not seeking our party’s nomination for President.”

That Christie has not chosen to do the same is, um, not by accident. That said, it also doesn’t mean he is running for president. It simply means he isn’t ready to kill off the idea just yet.

(For those who insist Christie has already said he is not running: Yes, you’re right. But the way this process works is that if/when your name keeps coming up, you have to keep knocking it down. Unless, of course, you don’t want it knocked down.)

The “why” behind Christie’s refusal to refuse is far tougher to figure out. Among the possibilities:

1) He wants to raise his national profile (and more national money) and knows that the second he — finally, finally for real this time — rules out running, his capacity to do both things drops drastically.

2) He is genuinely reconsidering the race and want to buy himself some time to sort through the details. By keeping the door open — even a crack — he knows that the chatter will keep up both in the activist and donor community. And, whether or not he means to do so, you can bet Christie’s equivocation will make it harder for the likes of Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to close the deal with still-on-the-fence major donors in this final week of the third fundraising quarter.

What we know: Christie is up to something. He has proven himself to be a very savvy manipulator of his public image during his first few years in office and has a political team — led by Mike Duhaime who managed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid — that is well-versed in how the presidential game works.

Put simply: Accidents do not happen at this level of politics. They just don’t. That Christie didn’t rule out a run on Tuesday was not an honest mistake. Now we wait to see what it all means.

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