It seemed that all of America was set to endure one more week, at least, of the "Chris Christie Boomlet," as he was being urged by GOP elites to forgo his promise of suicide and jump into the 2012 race in order to save it. But Fox News is reporting today that Christie will not be making a run, just as he has said all along. Hope springs eternal, of course, but for the time being, it looks like the field for the GOP nomination remains set.
What drove this meme? Well, it's nothing that Chris Christie did. The Christie Boomlet existed because the Rick Perry Boomlet has faded, thanks to a bunch of debate performances in which Perry was seen to tire under the spotlights. After a third performance in which he was ineffective in his attacks on Mitt Romney and bloodied up by the second tier of candidates, Bill Kristol very quickly swapped out his "Paul Ryan 2012" button for one that read "Chris Christie 2012" and put all of his angst into a piece in the Weekly Standard titled "Yikes."
Watching this week as Mitch Daniels intelligently promoted his book and Paul Ryan cogently explained why crony capitalism is inconsistent with the rule of law, we of course lamented that neither of them had stepped up to the challenge. Jeb Bush apparently isn't getting in. That would seem to leave Chris Christie.
He is, in every sense, a big man for a big job.
Kristol anchored the Christie-booster chatter at a particularly ripe moment, as the New Jersey Governor is scheduled to give some sort of major speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., today. Steve Kornacki made the requisite comparisons to Mario Cuomo's historic teases over at Capitol New York, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean insisted that Christie was having deep thoughts about jumping in, and corporate donors were lining up behind a possible bid.
But it was always smart to be doubtful -- and not just because Christie's been repeatedly adamant about not entering the race. The fundamentals just don't favor success. For starters, it's important to remember that the whole "fall of Rick Perry" is almost exclusively a media-driven storyline -- he's fallen a lot further in the estimation of the pundit class than he has with actual voters. There's no doubt that Perry turned in a few subpar debate performances, and it's clear that his record allows ample opportunities to drive a wedge between Perry and the GOP primary base. But at the moment, Perry remains the race's frontrunner: the most recent CNN/ORC poll has him down 2 points, but maintaining a 28-to-21 percent lead over Romney. And Perry is still a tremendously well-funded candidate -- barring a catastrophe, he's going to make it to the Iowa Caucus and from there, it's a matter of beating Romney in the early primary states and putting the rest of the field to bed.
Even if we assume Chris Christie could hit the ground with a decent war chest, he would still be entering the race extremely late, with no organization set up in the early states. He'd face an uphill climb in New Hampshire, where Romney has enjoyed a hammer-lock on the top spot, and realistically Christie has just as good a chance of simply further dividing all the "not-Romney" votes elsewhere as he does at making a surge to the top spot, as Perry does.
The fact is, if Christie has an eye toward preserving his brand for an eventual run at the White House, he's likely seeing Rick Perry as a cautionary tale. The media loves nothing as much as a great political flame-out, and Perry faltering on the debate stage was just the right amount of catnip to touch off a frenzy of feline yowling. In all likelihood, Christie wouldn't suffer from the tongue-twisted fatigue that Perry has lately demonstrated. But Christie has to be watching what's going on and thinking that he's going to get attacked, and if he's not absolutely perfect in defending his positions, the media is going to magnify whatever faults are exposed. And with the debate audience driving the narrative as much as the participants, Christie can't afford to lose the crowd to an unpopular policy position.
And does Christie have a bunch of policy positions that would leave him vulnerable to the same kinds of attacks that have befallen Perry? Absolutely. In fact, as Steve Kornacki points out over at Salon, one of Christie's soft-spots is the same as Perry's:
Last year, he lashed out at political leaders who "demagogue" immigration, argued that the issue should be handled by the federal government (and not individual states, like Arizona), and called for a "clear" path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country. He went much farther in 2008, back when he was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, telling residents at a town meeting that "[b]eing in this country without proper documentation is not a crime" and that his office had no business dealing with illegal immigration cases.
Kornacki goes on to point out that Christie's stance on gun control is out of step with the GOP base, he's got a similar-to-Romney record on abortion, and in defending his decision to appoint Sohail Mohammed -- a Muslim-American lawyer with a degree from Seton Hall -- to the New Jersey Superior Court, he put himself at odds with the "Sharia panic" crowd, saying, "Sharia law has nothing to do with this at all. It's crazy. It's crazy ... The guy's an American citizen who has been an admitted lawyer to practice in the state of New Jersey, swearing an oath to uphold the laws of New Jersey, the constitution of the state of New Jersey, and the Constitution of the United States of America ... This Sharia law business is crap. It's just crazy. And I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."
Thus far, the GOP primary contest is not shaping up to be a great venue for anyone who's "tired of dealing with the crazies."
Of course, it's pretty clear that most of the "Draft Christie" movement is averse to "the crazies," as well. They're just uniquely averse to having to support Mitt Romney. Nevertheless, it's hard to read that "the Draft Christie committee" is primarily composed of wealthy elites from New York and not imagine the text of a future attack ad.
There's a lot of GOP talent staying on the bench this cycle, and in just about every case, the reason they aren't sticking their necks out is because they're just not built for these times -- the base isn't interested in Mitch Daniels' talk of a "social truce" or Jeb Bush's rational take on immigration reform. Christie's in the same spot: a guy with a bright future who doesn't need to get bloodied in a race he doesn't need to run. And if Perry isn't cautionary tale enough, Christie can examine the guy who should have stayed out but got in anyway, Jon Huntsman, and see how extraordinarily disinterested any of the primary voters are in supporting a "rational, moderate Republican" who's only too happy to prescribe the exact same economic policy as the rest of the current field.
Frankly, one would have needed only to return to Kristol's urgings to find a good reason for Christie to stay at home:
A third e-mailer Thursday evening, watching the debate, was reminded of Yeats's "The Second Coming:"
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
There's some truth to that. But I can't help wondering if, in the same poem, Yeats didn't suggest the remedy:
"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
Sounds like Chris Christie.
I think that when your most ardent supporter compares you to the Antichrist, it's time to think very carefully about whether your hour has truly come round at last. If the reports are true, that's precisely what Chris Christie seems to have done.
UPDATE: A source tells ABC News that Christie is still considering running for president in 2012.