New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie keeps denying he has any interest in a run for the GOP field. And yet people keep asking.
Trying to quell the latest Christie for President boomlet, his brother, Todd Christie, told the Newark Star-Ledger that the governor hasn't changed his mind and isn't considering a run, even though long-time Christie confidante and ex-governor Thomas Kean said the current governor is giving it serious consideration. That the rumors about a presidential run never seem to die down says a little about Christie, and a lot more about the current makeup of the GOP field.
It isn't a coincidence that the latest round of buzz over a possible Christie presidential run comes just after Texas Gov. Rick Perry, once thought of as a savior in an underwhelming field, stumbled in a recent debate and lost a crucial Florida straw poll. The GOP remains dissatisfied with its candidates at a time when President Obama has never looked more vulnerable. "There's a very clear perceived vacuum amongst the current crop of candidates," says Andrew Langer, president of the conservative Institute for Liberty.
Mitt Romney seems to have the most momentum now, but conservative activists are deeply distrustful of the former Massachusetts governor who once looked a lot like the type of moderate New England Republican who they worked so hard to purge from the party. Perry was supposed to fill the void, but the perception that he has stumbled early in his campaign has left GOP voters cold. Even though a Christie run would face some high hurdles—it's awfully late in the game to start building up a national campaign—Republican donors and activists continue to look to him as a possible white knight.
Christie's appeal lies in his reputation as a straight talker and the belief that he has sold a vision of smaller government in a place—deep blue and strongly unionized New Jersey—where it faces a tough crowd. "Chris Christie demonstrated that you can take on public sector unions without being seen as being mean to government workers, or workers in general," says Grover Norquist, the influential GOP anti-tax activist and president of Americans for Tax Reform. "He proved you can do it." And his image is bolstered by the idea that Christie is uniquely suited to make the case that only deep overhauls of America's entitlement programs will secure its fiscal and economic future.
But Christie supporters may be suffering from the "grass is always greener" syndrome: the propensity to only see the virtues of options not currently available. If Christie defied the odds and stepped in, his flaws would take center stage. Even though libertarians hold him up as an icon, he is a moderate governor from a blue state. Although he has cut some subsidies for some renewable energy programs, he ran as a green-minded Republican who doesn't deny human-influenced climate change. Other socially moderate positions on gun control and immigration would upset the GOP base, as would his acceptance of civil unions in the Garden State.
Norquist disagrees that the candidate field is flawed, claiming that Perry or Romney would be excellent general election candidates. People just need time to get used to them. "Nobody looks like a president until they're president," Norquist says. But the unrequited yearning for a Christie run shows that none of the candidates have convinced Republican voters or activists that they have a compelling vision for the party's, or America's, future aside from replacing Obama. If any of the candidates want to benefit from the enthusiasm for Christie, that's a place to start.