Is Chris Christie the Republicans’ Bill Clinton?

November 1, 2013

Chris Christie: So hot right now.


In this Aug. 21, 2013 file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering in Camden, N.J.  (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

That's the sentiment among the Republican political class these days as the New Jersey governor nears what is expected to be a sweeping re-election victory on Tuesday in the Democratic-friendly state of New Jersey. Here's how one plugged-in Republican consultant responded when asked how we should rank the current 2016 field:

Christie is in the 1 slot now and forevermore -- he's about to get huge margins in his historic reelection in a blue state --he's the successful model for our Party (from a political perspective) and his governing success is exactly what our country needs from a fiscal perspective. He can compete in about 40 of 50 states. Who else can do that AND run as a conservative? No one.

Christie is increasingly seen as the one candidate who might be able to bridge the divide between the establishment and the tea party that is in the process of ripping the party apart. In that way, Republicans are hoping that he can do for their side what Bill Clinton did in the early 1990s for a Democratic party that was similarly divided -- heal what looks to be an un-healable wound through force of personality and a demonstrated record of success as a governor.

Now, comparing up and coming politicians to Bill Clinton is sort of like saying that "_______" is going to be the next Michael Jordan. (Remember how Harold Minor was going to be the next Jordan?) Bill Clinton, for good and bad, is one of a kind, politically speaking.

But, there is a growing sense within the Republican political intelligentsia that Christie and only Christie is positioned to solve the major problems that will face the party in 2016.  Because of that, we are moving the governor of New Jersey into the top slot in our rankings of the 10 candidates most likely to wind up as the Republican presidential nominee in three years time.

The full rankings are below. Enjoy!

10. Mike Pence: Looking for a dark horse?  Try the Indiana governor. He's a gifted communicator, liked by social and fiscal conservatives and not part of the Washington establishment anymore. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Paul Ryan: We keep hearing conflicting things when it comes the 2012 vice presidential nominee. The last time we did these rankings we had Ryan in the top five because we were told by people we trusted that he was more serious about running than many people (including us) thought. But, in more recent conversations, there appears to be a significant dialing back of Ryan's interest and, as several Republicans noted, he's really not doing much to build the beginnings of a presidential bid. (Previous ranking: 4)

8. John Kasich: The Ohio governor needs to win re-election before he or his people will seriously entertain the possibility of another run for president. (He ran briefly in 2000.) And that will be no easy feat as Democrats believe they have a real chance at beating him. But, say Kasich wins re-election. He's a two- term governor of a Midwestern swing state who spent time in Washington -- a long time ago -- as the head of the budget committee. That's not a bad starting place. (Previous ranking: 9)

7. Bobby Jindal: Several people we talked to suggested that we drop Jindal below Kasich in our rankings. But, Jindal has the next year to continue to organize for a presidential bid while Kasich needs to keep both eyes on his re-election. That's enough for us to give Jindal a slight edge. Jindal is quite clearly trying to position himself as the "ideas guy" in the field also known as the Newton Leroy Gingrich Memorial Slot.  Assuming Ryan doesn't run, Jindal has a strong chance to be that guy. (Previous ranking: 8)

6. Marco Rubio: The tumble down the rankings continues for Rubio, who held down the number one slot as recently as a few months ago. The problem for Rubio is that his work to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill through the Senate has damaged him within the party base and, because the legislation remains mired in the House, he has nothing to show for it. Sign of the times? A WMUR poll showed Rubio in sixth place in the New Hampshire primary field, tied with Rick Santorum. Oomph. (Previous ranking: 3)

5. Jeb Bush: The holding pattern continues. If he runs, Jeb may replace Christie as the Clinton figure in the field.  But, no one knows what he is going to do -- and he isn't talking much about it. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Scott Walker:  The Wisconsin governor is in a similar position to Kasich. He has a very strong case to make for 2016 if he can get through his 2014 re-election race. Walker has proven himself -- in his 2010 election and his 2011 recall election -- to be a very able politician so we have our doubts about Democratic claims about how vulnerable he is next November. (Previous ranking: 7)

3. Ted Cruz: If the Iowa caucuses were held today, the Texas Senator would win. But, they aren't held today. Therein lies the fundamental question that lies at the heart of Cruz's increasingly likely candidacy: Can he sustain the energy and passion that the tea party base of the GOP have for him over the next two-plus years?  (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Rand Paul: Cruz's ascension as THE face of the tea party movement may actually make it more likely that the Kentucky senator winds up as the nominee. If Cruz is seen as the most ideological of the top tier of candidates, Paul can cast himself as the most electable hybrid conservative -- someone who conservatives can feel good about and who can expand the GOP's shrinking electoral map. (Previous ranking: 1)

1. Chris Christie: No one has had a better 2013. The only question for Christie is whether the power center of the party has moved so far toward the tea party that he simply cannot be its choice due to his focus on pragmatism over principle and winning over all else. (Previous ranking: 2)

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Peter Wallsten · November 1, 2013