Chris Christie is the most recent and presumably last great hope of the Republicans to send a candidate who could electrify the party into the presidential race against Barack Obama; yet, the 49-year-old hesitates — and could bring a serious problem for the Republicans.
They give him another week. Commentators in the U.S. media agree Chris Christie must then really decide whether he finally wants to take the plunge.
The 49-year-old governor of the East Coast state of New Jersey is the youngest and presumably last great hope for the Republicans to be able to send a candidate who could electrify the conservative party base into the presidential race against Barack Obama. He should, however, appear appealing and trustworthy enough so that he would be able to stand for election across party lines — in short, a promising challenger to the down-for-the-count president.
For months Christie has hesitated and has repeatedly let it be understood that a candidateship is flattering, but he first wants to bring his term of office in New Jersey to an end. He has publicly and repeatedly stated what would be political suicide for others: that he is not “seasoned” enough for candidacy, not prepared enough for the presidency.
There is something to that: For six years, Christie was a U.S. attorney general in his home state — thus, top criminal prosecutor on behalf of Washington — before he was elected governor of New Jersey scarcely two years ago. That is not particularly a lot of experience in high political offices — but Obama didn’t have that either.
Likewise, Christie does not have a lot of expertise in domestic matters outside of New Jersey to show for himself; experience in foreign matters, not at all. That does not deter his political fans, just as little as his repeated, tongue-in-cheek refusals: “What do I have to do, short of suicide, to convince people I’m not running?” he said at an event in Washington.
The new buzz set in at the end of last week after a once-again unsuccessful appearance of the Texas governor (and up-to-now favorite in polls about the Republican presidential candidates), Rick Perry, in a TV debate. Already in the previous two television rounds, Perry did not come off as the strongest debater. This time he seemed in some cases confused and, to top it all, accused his rivals of heartlessness in the debate about illegal immigrants in the U.S. That is a big “no-no” among Republicans.
Very Wealthy Donors Want to Support Christie
The conservative Weekly Standard, an opinion newspaper of the right, dropped Perry and explicitly invited Christie to run. Behind the scenes, at least a handful of very wealthy donors assured Christie that they would support him in the election campaign. And on Tuesday he spoke at the Ronald Reagan Library in California — so to speak, at the Holy Grail of conservative Republicans. After his speech, a woman pleaded for him to run amid a rush of applause from the audience.
Where does the enthusiasm for this man come from? On the one hand, Christie is not only a heavyweight because of his corpulence. He likes to flirt with his descent from New Jersey, class himself a Jersey boy who knows there is a whole other world on the other side of the river (meaning New York) that is not his. With values that — as the underlying innuendo goes — have nothing to do with the traditional basic values of decency, moderation and modesty, which hold true where he grew up.
In personal conversation, he appears charming and winning, no radical club swinger like the tea party people are. In discussions he is quick-witted, and in the everyday business of politics, he does not dodge any business. In New Jersey, he largely pushed through cuts in the budget in the fight against the Democratic majority in New Jersey’s legislature. With that he is quite in line with the austere politicians of his party, and his opposition to abortion and gay marriage also makes him electable by ultraconservative Republicans.
On the other hand, the hype does not only have to do with Christie himself, but rather also with the dissatisfaction in the Republican Party with their presidential candidates. Rick Perry, the up-to-now favorite of the right, is tending to shoot himself in the foot. Mitt Romney, who already tried four years ago, seems to many to be too slick and too uninspiring, and for the party right, he is not conservative enough. The other candidates, everyone knows, would have no chance anyway. So a big gap remains that the last-minute candidate Christie could ideally fill.
That the pace would become distinctly harder if he should actually enter the race was foreshadowed upon reading The New York Times on Friday. The newspaper reported in elaborate detail that Christie’s self-attested ability to work with political opponents leaves much to be desired. At least his dealings with both — Democratic — representatives of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate are near to this end: He has not even exchanged one word beyond trivialities with either of them.