If there were a Guinness Book of World Records category for most difficult tea leaf-reading, the Chris Christie “will he or won’t he” watch would be well ahead of prior contestants. From the New Jersey governor’s inner circle, it appears that the decision is down to the governor and his wife. In other words, everyone else is reduced to pleading for his candidacy or deriding his prospects.
The arguments for his run are well-known. The GOP field lacks a unifying, dynamic figure. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has raised more doubts than hopes in the weeks he’s been in the race. As Obama’s political fortunes crater, the potential to take the White House raises the opportunity for dynamic, substantial conservative reform, which has been Christie’s calling card. And finally, if the GOP does win the White House, it may be years and years before Christie has another shot at the White House. In fact, it may never come if he fails to win a second term as governor or he simply fades as a player in the Republican Party.
On the other side are trivial and not so trivial reasons not to run. His weight is surely the most frivolous argument against his run. That’s closely followed on the “evidence MSM pundits aren’t very bright” list by his own statements saying he wasn’t willing or ready to run. Take your pick of the easily delivered rationales: Times change; Christie has racked up wins since then; he’s saying things others aren’t; he was being excessively modest (said with a wink); and (my personal favorite), “Have you seen the rest of these guys?”
Less trivial are the logistical concerns. As the Wall Street Journal lays out today, “Florida Republicans upended the primary calendar last week by setting their state’s primary for January 31. As a result, Iowa, New Hampshire and possibly other states will move their dates to the first few weeks of the year, which would give Mr. Christie just three months to launch a full-fledged campaign. . . . Filing deadlines to get on the ballot in New Hampshire, Florida and South Carolina, all early-voting states are less than a month away.”
And yet, when you read that you wonder if this isn’t trivial stuff as well. Who doubts that Christie couldn’t get signatures within days (let alone weeks) to qualify on early states’ ballots? An advisor to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declined to say when the governor had last spoken to Christie, but did tell me that the governor believes that Christie would have a “good opportunity” to do well in the Iowa caucuses.
Wonks are figuratively lining up to help him formulate policy. Big donors not constricted by campaign finance limits would generate tens of millions via a superPAC in short order. And Christie, one of the best extemporaneous speakers in politics would require far less preparation than other pols who make it a practice to hide from the press or stick to 3x5 notecards. He’ll get 24/7 free media coverage.
The argument Christie hopefuls may be hesitant to make is that the worst thing that happens to Christie is that he loses and gets a shot at VP. He’s not a pol like Sarah Palin who has more (financially, for one thing) to lose than to gain. He’s not a pol who does poorly in face offs with the press. And, moreover, we’ve seen that second-place finishers in the Republican primary often get the nod in later years (e.g. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, John McCain). In other words, even a losing effort is a career builder for him.
Finally, in an odd way the short time frame may help him. Perry’s August start has actually given his opponents ample time to develop attacks. Christie, if he shows his true colors, would take the race by storm, roll out some bold initiatives and hold the public’s attention for a good long while. There would be no vacuum for opposition to capitlize on in a Christie campaign. Moreover, Perry in large part helped accelerate the attacks on himself by shoddy debate performances. If Christie can do well in those settings, dominate the free media and absorb the public’s imagination, it may be his opponents who will need to scramble to find reasons not to elect him.
We’ll know soon enough what his decision is. If he doesn’t get into the race it’s unlikely other candidates will jump in at this point. In a way, the GOP race is coming down to Christie or the steady but unexciting Mitt Romney. Either would be well-positioned to beat Obama; one would make the campaign and the post-Obama era memorable. And really entertaining.