Stop me if you've heard this before. A charismatic, prenaturally politically gifted -- if slightly overweight -- politician wins overwhelming reelection in a state that generally votes for the opposite party. He attracts accolades from both parties and when asked "why?" people simply say "I just like the guy." He bucks party orthodoxy and cuts a line of accomplishment and deal-making compromises for the betterment of his state, rather than adhering to party doctrine. He regularly meets with unexpected groups of people and says things that few would consider pandering. He pushes his pole-(and poll)-drifting party back towards the "sensible center" and with a reelection win behind him, talk of "next president" heats up, but his path to the nomination is fraught with challenges.
OK, that wasn't particularly confusing but the similarities between Bill Clinton and Chris Christie, even at a superficial level, are far too obvious not to mention. It's one of the many reasons Christie scares the hell out of me. But taking a step back, he is not the second coming of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush (of 1999-2000) or even Ronald Reagan; he's a candidate with a slim chance of becoming the next commander-in-chief. Here's why:
The question is: Could Chris Christie be our next president? The answer is "maybe". But he has to get through the insane labyrinth that is the GOP primaries.
"People" like the bombastic-ness, but it may not play well in living rooms in Iowa and New Hampshire or candidate forums when he gets asked something he doesn't like. Those "people" are for the most part, not Republican Primary voters.
Christie, smartly (for New Jersey), backed down from his fight against same sex marriage, but that may not play well with the severely right slanted republican primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
When voters in the south or fly-over states think "New Jersey" they think The Sopranos and Jersey Shore, not "political savior". The unfortunate stereotype of New Jerseyan is only cemented by Christie's aggressive antics. It may sell well with the North East voter and elite media, but is a buttoned-up evangelical in Iowa going to dig it?
One of the things people seem to love about Christie is that he seems to be a moderate, and he actually is. Though, pragmatic may be a better term than moderate. He has endorsed: gun control; a citizenship path for illegal immigrants; acknowledged the reality of climate science; and most damning of all, allowed New Jersey to participate in an expansion of Medicare under the Affordable Care Act.
Christie's "sensible-ness" in a time of party insanity, his record of accomplishments and "no nonsense" personality should remind most voters of another North Eastern political rock star with sights on the White House who was, incidentally, trounced in the primaries: Rudy Giuliani. Christie's moderation in the GOP should also remind people of Jon Huntsman's disastrous attempt at the big chair. Granted, both were thoroughly inept campaigners, but there is a case study in there.
Perhaps most damaging of all (with GOP primary voters) is that Christie doesn't disdain President Obama. To the contrary, their "buddy movie" routine seems to come from genuine affection for one another. In today's Republican Party, not hating Obama is akin to being pro-choice, or pro-gay marriage, or worst of all -- in favor of raising tax rates. The pictures and footage of Christie and Obama touring the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy, will be used in every single attack ad and piece of mail produced by his primary opponents.
In their new book, Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write that before the 2012 election, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina had "cadged a hard drive filled with Christie oppo - and the stuff was pure gold." from former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's staff. Their explanation of why Romney didn't choose Christie for veep is even more damning.
To transform himself into something acceptable to the majority of Republican primary voters, Christie would have to remake all the things that people in the middle or the left like about him.
This quote CNN's Jake Tapper coaxed out of him after his reelection is telling: "I'll tell you something: I think there are elements of the Tea Party that are Republicans at their best -- you know, limited government, in favor of individual liberty and freedom, tough on government spending, questioning taxes and whether you need to expand or grow them. So, I think the core of the Tea Party movement, as I understand it -- I think is very consistent with good conservative Republicanism."
There's a reason even with his outsized media presence, he is not beating the other potential Republican candidates.
THE GENERAL and the MAP
The current reality is that Christie loses to Hillary Clinton in every current poll out there (and to Biden in most), but we're 36 months away from it really counting.
Can he win?
The reality of the electoral map is that if it stays the same as 2012 and Christie manages to flip New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania plus any single other state, he's moving on up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You can sleep easier knowing that currently he's losing to Clinton by four points in Jersey and it's unlikely the Democratic nominee (whoever it is) loses New York.
There's also the X Factor. Should Christie become the nominee, it is entirely likely a third party bid on his right takes shape. Whether that candidate is someone like Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz remains to be seen, but with a doctrine-adherent conservative candidate in the race, the electoral map becomes nearly psychedelic and states that have been firmly in the Republican column for decades go up for grabs.
And then there is the kicker -- Republicans may just be desperate enough to put a check in the win column that they swallow dogmatic pride/insanity and look past Christie's non-hatred of Obama (and other faults), and get behind him.
Folks like the imminently sensible Joe Scarborough think Christie is the second coming of Reagan and the savior of not only the Republican Party, but also the country as a whole. However, Morning Joe also represents the sensible faction of the party that has been shouted down, by the extremists and Tea Party, to the point of being irrelevant to everyone except his Democratic viewers.
I could be wrong; and the savior of the Republican Party may arrive in the same way the savior of the Democratic Party came in two decades ago. But, I doubt it.