Speculation about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has continued this weekend. Rick Perry’s dismal performance in the Florida debate and straw poll are inspiring many Republicans who are dismayed at the idea of Mitt Romney as their standard-bearer next year to beat the drums for Christie. But, as I first wrote last week, the latest Christie boomlet will only further fracture the Republican presidential race, not clarify it.
Even if we assume for the sake of argument Christie will succumb to the blandishments of those imploring him to run, the notion he will be instantly viable is a fantasy. Christie’s entry in the race will provide competition to Romney for center-right voters but none at all for Perry among conservative Christians and Tea Partiers. Indeed, rather than helping to stop the sinking Perry, Christie might do just the opposite. By weakening Romney just when he seemed to be on the rise, he might enable the Texan to survive his current crisis.
As is the case with the various potential saviors for the GOP, all we are hearing about these days are Christie’s strengths, not his weaknesses or the immense difficulties of starting this late without much preparation, a lesson one would think Perry’s example would make abundantly clear.
Christie does bring to the table a considerable reputation as an able executive who vanquished the public employee unions and their Democratic allies. But nobody has explained how a Northeastern governor with stands on both abortion and immigration that pass for conservative in New Jersey but not in most of the rest of the country can possibly compete for the votes of the GOP grass roots against people like Perry or Michele Bachmann. What Christie will do is to make serious inroads on Romney just at the time when he is gaining traction and erasing Perry’s once large lead. Romney’s path to the nomination is based on a belief he will win enough large states like Pennsylvania to offset the advantage his more conservative opponents have in much of the South and West. Christie might make that impossible without being able to win it either.
While possessing enormous political talent and a gift for winning the fights he picks, Christie is unprepared for a run for national office and the intrusive scrutiny that comes with it. Having bridled at the coverage he already gets in Trenton and with a skin every bit as thin as Barack Obama’s without the latter’s cool temperament, it isn’t hard to imagine how badly he will react to the nastiness of life on the presidential campaign trail. The results would be noisy and entertaining but not pretty.
I still believe Christie is too smart to go down a road that is unlikely to bring him the nomination. But if he does, his late entry in the race would be exactly what Perry needs and a terrible blow to Romney.