Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Rand Paul said he would not vote for Chris Christie if Christie were the GOP presidential nominee in 2016. This post has been updated.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is headed for a monster re-election win, which will cement his place in the top tier of presidential contenders for 2016. Even better, the loony flank of the GOP has made him into the paragon of conservative sobriety.
First, Christie took on irresponsible attacks on anti-terror policies. That incited Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to start popping off, inaccurately, about Christie’s money grab from D.C. (In true conservative style, Christie shot back that it is Beltway pols who take more from New Jersey residents than his taxpayers get back from the feds.)
Then the gift with a big red ribbon arrived in the form of Sarah Palin’s pronouncement that Christie has too much schtick — if winning a blue state overwhelmingly is schtick, perhaps the whole party needs more of it — and is a “big government” Republican. Where she gets the latter from I am not sure. Christie cut taxes, went after the teachers union, reduced debt and reformed public employee entitlements. But forget the facts for a moment (Palin sure does): Palin, even among conservatives, and even among hard-line conservatives, is a bit of a joke and not a serious person. She was entirely irrelevant to the 2008 race, and she serves as sort of a reverse compass for political judgment. Whichever way she points, it’s a good idea to go in the opposite direction. When she declares she will “Stand with Rand,” she is solidifying Paul as the not-serious candidate and casting Christie in the role of the grown up.
Christie hardly needs Rand Paul and Sarah Palin to seem like a grown up. He, along with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, if he decides to run, will have the benefit of being a successful executive with a record of success. Add his role in Hurricane Sandy recovery, and you have an impressive leader. To top it off, Christie, uniquely in the potential 2016 field, I think, has a larger-than-life personality, which he uses adeptly to marry rhetoric to serious policy.
It isn’t clear Christie is going to run. If he does, he’ll have serious competition from solid opponents. He’ll need to explain his position on guns and show he has foreign policy chops (rejecting Rand Paul’s attack on anti-terror programs is a good start). But in the “better to be lucky than good” department, it sure helps to have the nutty wing of the party go after him.