New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, on a visit to New Hampshire, is trying to reinvigorate a potential presidential campaign, demonstrate he is still a viable force and reassure supporters. He is holding his free-flowing town halls (quite a contrast with Hillary Clinton), making the case that the GOP needs a governor as its nominee and taking shots at his rivals. It is not unlike 2008, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) with little money or organization took New Hampshire, got back in the race and ultimately won the nomination. Can Christie do the same?
We start with the proposition that no one is running away with the race among voters. Jeb Bush will have the lion’s share of the money, but he’s not leading in any state and has not rolled out a complete agenda. Money did not and will not clear the field. Christie, through a combination of personal charisma and appeal to Bush fatigue, will have a hard but not impossible task of pulling Bush down and filling the “mainstream governor” slot. Christie can be entertaining and impressive in town-hall settings but must make certain not to look angry.
A bigger problem may be Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has appeal with moderates and independents although he is to Christie’s right. In this regard Walker will need to continue his outspokenness on foreign policy and present a national-size agenda.
And last but not least there is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who wowed Republicans with his announcement speech and has a reform agenda more complete at this stage than any competitor. Christie will have to make his “you need a governor” argument, portraying Rubio as a nice kid but no chief executive. Here it gets tricky since one of the arguments for a chief executive is that you need a proven manager and an authority figure as commander in chief. On the prior point, Christie will need to defend his record in New Jersey (his popularity there is at a low point) and show he’s a better bet as commander in chief. The latter point, considering Rubio’s foreign policy prowess, is an uphill climb.
This is no easy task, to be sure. Christie will have to operate with a small operation and focus like a laser on New Hampshire, in essence counting on a win or very good showing to put him back in consideration. The good news for him is that he is effective and well practiced in town-hall settings, and he will have the debates to show off his wit and pugnacious spirit. Given how many candidates are potentially in the race and how divided (or uninterested) most voters are, it is not impossible. That he is struggling for relevance now, however, tells us how far he has fallen from his once top-tier position.