11/21/2013 01:23 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2013

Chris Christie And The Perils Of Inevitability


One of the reasons that the political media has gotten a crazy jump-start on 2016 presidential speculation is because among the slim pickings of electoral contests in 2013 was the New Jersey governor's race, won earlier this month by incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Christie, long thought to be a certain contender for higher office at some point in the future, ended up the focus of the media's typical "MAN WIN THING THEREFORE MAYBE MAN WIN OTHER THING" reaction to shiny-shiny events, and a huge dose of creatine was added to the 2016 scene.

Of course, there is a double-edge to this kind of media attention, and you get a taste of it in an article in USA Today by Martha T. Moore, titled, "Before 2016, Christie has to position himself carefully":

Christie hasn't said he will run for president, but most of his constituents — along with plenty of political pundits — expect that he will. Fifty-nine percent of New Jerseyites say he will seek the presidency in 2016, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll taken this month.

To preserve that prospect, Christie has to walk a fine line: He must maintain the political momentum he has been steadily gaining since he came to national attention during Superstorm Sandy last year without risking overexposure or becoming viewed as the "inevitable" GOP nominee.

Ah, yes! The perils of inevitability! Two months ago, when Christie was coasting to a certain win in New Jersey, inevitability wasn't so bad. But now it's terrible! And it's up to Christie to "walk a fine line," now, because of the terrible disadvantages that come from having so many advantages.

It's not just Christie's problem, either. As Maggie Haberman wrote back in October:

The most urgent question Hillary Clinton would face if she were to run again for president is whether she could avoid the blunders — the bitter staff rivalries going public, the poisonous relationship with the press, the presumption of inevitability — that helped doom her campaign five years ago.

Hillary Clinton is pretty much the test case for the curse of inevitability, and it's become an article of faith for political reporters that somehow, her 2008 presidential bid came to ruin because so many political reporters held her to be the presumptive front-runner. And yet, while one can glibly insist that the "presumption of inevitability" was a thing that "helped doom her campaign," the hows and whys of it can't be explained.

I mean, what happened? Were there a whole lot of Hillary supporters that got turned off by the fact that Hillary had a whole lot of supporters? What is it about "inevitability" that causes a person to vote against someone? Does a switch flip in the mind of a voter, leading them away from an "inevitable" candidate at the moment they come to be so described?

Think about it. If inevitability is a thing that inevitably leads to the inevitable candidate being doomed in favor of less inevitable candidates, should we not say, right now, that one of the less inevitable 2016 candidates is, in fact, the most inevitable?

USA Today's Moore basically insists that "inevitability" is a quality that voters do not like: "The aura of inevitability can send primary voters into the arms of other candidates, as Mitt Romney learned In 2012."

Is that what happened in 2012, though? This is a thing that I think Moore has convinced herself of, as she has explained: "GOP primary voters turned from Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to Rick Perry to Rick Santorum before finally settling on Romney –- but the speed-dating took a toll on the eventual nominee."

Ahh, no. People responding to polls at the time shone favor on a host of non-Romney candidates, like Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Actual voters tended to favor Mitt Romney in large numbers, Santorum in smaller numbers and Gingrich on two memorable occasions in South Carolina and Georgia. And the plethora of candidates didn't so much take a toll on Mitt Romney as much as they took a toll on each other. Romney, the inevitable nominee, was nominated, and his "inevitable nature" never cost him.

But what's past is past. The larger question is, "What are Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton supposed to do about it?" Once you've been tagged as "inevitable," what's the solution? To hear Moore tell it, you have to do a lot of stuff ("rack up legislative achievements," travel a lot) while simultaneously managing to not do a lot of stuff (go "underground"). That's going to be a pretty neat trick.

GOP strategist Ron Bonjean tells Moore that Christie has to be careful in the way he manages his social media "moments," saying, "He could screw it up by having that one moment where he goes overboard."

But, if Christie is caught on YouTube "going overboard," wouldn't that help him with that whole "inevitability" thing that could wreck his candidacy? Perhaps Chris Christie must destroy his inevitability in order to save it!

It's all sort of confusing, unless you simply accept that "inevitability" is a mantle that's forced upon a candidate by the media, who will then, in the next part of the narrative, start evincing all this terrible concern that the mantle will work to the candidate's detriment.

That's the only inevitable thing here. My advice to you: When you encounter a piece of writing that muses about the perils of inevitability, just close the tab.

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