In a straw poll of front page RedState contributors named Leon, Chris Christie would not come in the top 5 of Republican 2016 contenders. But given the results of Tuesday, it is time to stop pretending that anyone other than Christie is the GOP front runner right now.
The problems with Christie as a candidate are well known and documented. Among the expected 2016 field, Christie is probably the most well-known and controversial. His judicial appointments have been at times questionable and at other times terrible. His record of conservative orthodoxy is extremely spotty. His combative personality rubs many people the wrong way. If he runs, his fellow Republicans will have a field day running ads of him walking with Obama and praising Obama after Hurricane Sandy. The media will likewise have a field day with Bridge Gate.
All of this seems unlikely to stop Christie’s path to the nomination, at least in the absence of a surprisingly strong campaign from one of his challengers. Republican voters right now are aching for two things: a) someone who will visibly take the fight to people who have run the country into the ground and more importantly, b) someone who will win. No one else in the field comes close to Christie on either count. Just based on the primary experience of 2000, the lingering sour taste of two losses to Obama is going to wipe almost all considerations other than the ability to beat the Democrat nominee off the mat. I simply can’t see an embarrassing spectacle like 2012 unfolding where ideological bickering leads to nonserious candidates like Herman Cain and Rick Santorum enjoying meaningful time as the frontrunner. I think, for better or worse, the party will coalesce around a candidate early and stick with him/her through the end. And in terms of proven results, after winning blue New Jersey in a rout in his re-election campaign, and turning what was expected to be a 3-seat loss in governor’s mansions on Tuesday into an incredible 2 or 3 seat gain (bringing the national total up to an almost unfathomable 34 or 35 GOP governors), Christie is in a unique position to brag about the ability to bring results and have coattails.
Of the other candidates in the expected field, Scott Walker is the only one who will have a similar resume to run on, and Walker’s charisma deficit has been well documented. Jindal, my personal favorite at this early juncture, will probably not fit the national zeitgeist absent a major and unforeseen change in circumstances. [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] has built an impressive organization but has too sizeable of a contingent that will not vote for him under any circumstances and has a congenital case of foot-in-mouth disease. Jeb, Rick Perry, and Romney are retreads and/or have faded from the public eye, and will probably not get a serious look with a strong bench this year.
Obviously there’s a long time to go and any number of things could happen either to the candidates themselves, or the political mood of the country. A dark horse might yet emerge who captures lightning in a bottle. But at this early stage of the game, Chris Christie is sitting in the catbird’s seat after Tuesday’s bloodbath, and there’s no sense pretending otherwise.