Republican Govs. Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal don’t look or sound anything like each other. And their political standing couldn’t be more different.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie- (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Christie is the most popular governor in the country. The conservative punditocracy, however, has decided he’s a combination of Howard Dean ( a screaming lunatic) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) (loves the media and Democrats more than conservatives).

By contrast, Jindal’s popularity at home is plunging, in part for one of the reasons right-wing pundits love him — his plan to abolish the income tax. (“The Republican governor’s job approval has sunk 13 percentage points, from 51 percent to 38 percent, since last October. According to the survey, Jindal’s abrupt decline has to do with the governor’s handling of health care and taxes . . . . Nearly two thirds, 63 percent, opposed the governor’s tax swap proposal, which eliminates state income taxes but increases sales taxes, while only 27 percent supported the plan.”) He is making speeches around the country, generally sniping at national Republicans’ obsession with debt and the inclination to be good at governance, which he calls “managing decline.”

One or both of these candidates may run for president in 2016. If so, I imagine the conservative punditry and the voters, at least initially, will take a very different look at them. If, as expected, Christie wins reelection in a blow-out, he’ll go into 2016 with a head of steam and an impressive record of entitlement and education reform. He is, even his critics admit, among the most charismatic and amusing public speakers the party has. Most of all, he’ll hold the promise of a Republican who can win among independents and even Democrats outside Republican enclaves.

Although well-known to policy wonks and pundits, Jindal would have to struggle to raise money and boost his name ID. His critics will point to his low standing in one of the reddest states, and his determination to avoid focusing on debt, federal spending and improving good government may all come back to haunt him. Like the governor he endorsed in 2008 ( Rick Perry of Texas), he’ll find it hard to run for president after years of telling everyone we should worry less about what goes on inside the Beltway.

As in most recent elections, the candidate whom the right-wing punditocracy loathes (e.g. Sen. John McCain, Mitt Romney) might prove to be a whole lot more popular with voters. Contrary to the right-wing paranoia that the last two nominees were “foisted” upon the GOP, McCain and Romney in fact won over primary voters in part because the opposition was lackluster and in part because even GOP primary voters want things other than ideological purity in a nominee. Their desperation to win the White House and willingness to embrace ideological apostasy (e.g. immigration reform with border security) will be even greater than it was in 2008.

Nearly four years ahead of the New Hampshire primary we don’t know who will run, whose record will improve or worsen and which candidates will connect with voters. But reliable indicators are their standing back home, the keenness of their political antennae (do they select good staff, have a good read on the electorate) and their organizational ability (can they raise money, set up a national network of donors and supporters). What does it mean when a dead-tree, right-wing news magazine that likes a contender for his cerebral tax plan (that happens to favor wealthy investors) or the bloggers who loved Herman Cain are entranced by a candidate? Might be a sure sign of a wanna-be going nowhere with  voters.