What we talk about when we talk about Gov. Christie

The one certain outcome of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's long stay in the national news is lots of publicity for the other names being floated as potential 2016 presidential candidates. Just as any news article about the investigations in New Jersey must mention that Christie is a frequent member of the hypothetical 2016 candidates club, so must it then go on to list all his potential opponents.


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference with families affected by Hurricane Sandy at a lounge in the New Point Comfort Fire Co. in Keansburg, N.J. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

Like on Sunday, for example, when the Newark Star-Ledger — New Jersey's largest newspaper — said that endorsing Christie in the fall gubernatorial election was a huge mistake. Soon after the editorial writer finishes chronicling the New Jersey governor's many failings, he then drifts off into his 2016 predictions:

Now that Christie has been knocked back, the leading candidate for the GOP nomination is Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, recently famous for his bizarre rant about women’s libido. And when he fades, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas will be waiting to pick up the pieces.

If there is one thing that political journalists can't resist, it's the temptation of election news. And right now, Christie's political problems are the most acceptable conduit for their obsessions. Creating Hillary Rodham Clinton coverage is a bit more of a belabored process — until she announces something (anything), journalists must wait until one of their kind delves into the archives for some small, unobserved tidbit for them to comment on en masse (although sometimes they unearth a treasure trove, too, the kind that deserve a bit more observation, such as these documents uncovered by the Free Beacon, which will set off an entire new rush of 2016 wonderings this upcoming week). Commentary conjured out of nothing isn't usually the most insightful either — last week, Andrew Sullivan decided that Clinton "may be the weakest and the strongest candidate for 2016." Or this one from Time magazine: "Hillary might be the only one who can beat Hillary."

Bouncing off Christie's scandal may not be much better, but there's enough of an excuse that it won't be stopping anytime soon, at least judging from the voluminous amounts of commentary from the past week. The Boston Herald called in its experts to assess the situation. The verdict? "Experts: Chris Christie dead in water." Said experts then wondered whether Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney was the obvious successor to the front-runner throne.

"Numerous early-state operatives, establishment figures and party chairs" interviewed by NBC News think Christie is still in the lead for 2016. On the other hand, what about Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Paul Ryan? So many people to speculate about, and so little time before we have to report on developments as well as rampantly speculating.

Republican super PAC founders told Ken Vogel at Politico that "the governor 'absolutely has a shot' at winning over Romney backers, despite being embroiled in a scandal over the allegedly politically motivated closures of lanes at the George Washington Bridge. 'Gov. Christie has already won the support of many major financial backers from the Romney campaign.' "

National Journal's contribution to the conversation started with this somewhat awkward headline: "Will Jeb Bush Fill the GOP's Governor-Shaped 2016 Hole?" Politico Magazine asked Newt Gingrich, Bill Kristol, Mary Matalin and many other Republican operatives to fill in the blank: "Chris Christie's Loss is [Someone's] Gain."

Those potential someones have done their best to take advantage of this swamp of 2016 coverage, and maybe make themselves the newly chosen anointed one of the next few months. Rand Paul offered vague opinions of his thoughts on the Christie scandal in an interview with a local news station in Texas on Saturday, and gave appropriately Shermanesque responses to queries about his presidential plans, answers so useless they could spawn at least a dozen articles parsing them as thoroughly as a Robert Frost poem in an introductory English class. Jeff Chidester in New Hampshire, who thinks "the U.S. primary process is without a doubt the greatest spectacle known to humankind," advances Susan Martinez and Mike Pence as the Republicans we should be talking about. The Columbus Dispatch thinks the Christie mishap means that the GOP will start looking at Ohioans John Kasich and Rob Portman. Even the Democratic benchers got some love in the news cycle. And John Bolton has managed to get attention as that special someone who won the Christie scandal. (A dubious distinction given that Christie has never seemed like the most logical person to throw at Republican primary voters. If he runs and fails in 2016, it would be wrong to see the bridge investigations as his doom. A lot of other problems were there from the start.)

The other thread of news that has left minds thinking ahead to 2016 from last week? News that many Democratic donors, like Republican strategists and the media writ large, are also more interested in talking about 2016 than the upcoming midterms.

All of these worries about 2014 and 2016 seem the product of feverish political minds stuck with nothing else to talk about. Yes, for now, there is much more coverage of 2016 than 2014. The 2014 race, however, still has a month or two to go before primaries heat up and reporters and the chattering class have studied up on all the many races to be fluent enough to have opinions or analyses when called upon.

Until that point, talk around the political water cooler is going to revolve around topics that already have national appeal. Our thoughts won't instantly gravitate to "What does this mean for 2016?" forever. When "House of Cards" starts again, there will be a brief moment where Christie's scandal is exactly like whatever shenanigans Francis Underwood gets up to. Someone will call Kevin Spacey to find out what he thinks about the debt-ceiling crisis. Things will fall apart, and someone will wonder what "House of Cards" says about 2016, but we might get a few days of respite. The Sochi Olympics will keep the country plenty occupied — or maybe even international politics — for a few days. And, a few months from now, when congressional primaries grow nearer, and attack ads will come out every day instead of every week, and polls will show which races are closest, and donors will respond by dropping money into the close races, and the media will start updating us on House races in counties we didn't even know existed, all of these fears about forgetting 2014 will disappear. We're watching previews for the 2014 midterms, and you don't watch clips from the upcoming film during the preceding trailers. No, you watch clips from the next year's blockbuster, which happens to be the 2016 Democratic and Republican primaries. In that light, all the 2016 predictions make perfect sense. We'll get to 2014's big show soon enough. 

Must-reads:

"With the clock ticking, Republicans seek a solution to raising debt limit, but not a fight" — Paul Kane and Robert Costa, The Washington Post

"Scott Brown: Will he or won’t he run for Senate in New Hampshire?" — Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post

"91 Minutes with Philippe Reines" — Reid Cherlin, New York Magazine

 

 

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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