Deciding not to run for president puts a check in the judgment column for Chris Christie. The barriers to success are just too high this year. Organizing a staff, raising the money, boning up on the issues and overcoming his overwhelming reluctance to running are just too many obstacles to conquer in the three months before the first primary. If he had decided to ignore those factors and get in anyway, it would have shown poor judgment for a potential leader of the free world. Although I can't imagine ever supporting Chris Christie for president; if he wants to have a real shot at the office he should pull a few pages from Mitt Romney's playbook and prepare for 2016.
Even with the bad economy and low poll numbers, President Barack Obama is still going to be tough to beat next year. His personal favorability remains high and without a primary opponent he has an entire year to focus attention on the broad middle of the electorate while Republicans edge ever closer to sliding over a right wing cliff that will make it quite difficult for them to climb back to the center where the moderates who decide elections are waiting.
So what should Christie do now?
First, he should decide today that he will not run for reelection as governor of New Jersey in 2013. The odds that a Democrat could beat him in a Democratic-leaning state just one year after a massive organizing effort to reelect President Obama are just too high and being a failed governor is worse than being a one-term governor. Without the pressure of running, Christie will not have to worry about facing voters with a record of raising bus fares, high unemployment and cutting money for schools. Instead he can just be blunt-spoken Chris Christie and let the next chief executive pick up the pieces of his governorship. However, the blunt spoken style of Chris Christie has the potential to wear thin with the public. It's cute to see someone else get taken down a peg in a public forum, but not as much fun when it happens to you, your family member or political ally.
Not being governor in January of 2014 would give Christie a huge leg up on potential rivals. He would have the time to focus on the obstacles that are in his way today. First, the former governor should write a book to lay out his principals and like Barack Obama in 2006, travel the country on a national book tour. There will be a midterm election in 2014 and Christie can also do fundraising and political events for other Republicans, building relationships and earning the chits that will be useful in a presidential campaign. He should use that time on the road to talk to voters, listen to their concerns and get a better feel for the country than the Governor of New Jersey could possibly have today.
Together with the speaking fees he would likely receive, the book will give him the ability to make more money than anything else he has ever done, providing some added financial security for his family.
Christie has no foreign policy experience and joining a think tank or NGO with an international focus would help him travel the world, meet world leaders and learn the issues a president must manage. Domestic concerns are at the top of the list today, but foreign policy chops are always important for a presidential candidate. Before Barack Obama ran for president he spent two years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even being detained at an airport in Russia with Republican Senator Richard Lugar.
Finally, I would advise Christie to get in better shape. Running for president is physically grueling and being able to keep the tough pace of the race is important. That's not a knock on overweight people, but an insight into the reality of campaigning.