If you don't believe attention already has begun to shift to the 2016 presidential election, consider the actions lately of Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey.
He is on the cover of Time magazine. He is traveling the country meeting Republicans, shoring up his image. With his path to re-election in New Jersey in 2013 seemingly cleared by his 78 percent approval rating and Newark Mayor Cory Booker's decision to seek a U.S. Senate seat instead, Christie appears primed to make a run at the White House in 2016.
Can he do it? Can he win the White House? A recent Public Policy Polling survey found Christie trailing assumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by a mere 2 percentage points. That's well within the margin of error.
But how seriously do we take these results? It's four years out—President Obama hasn't even been inaugurated for his second term yet. It's just one poll. And it is not even certain Clinton, who has run into health problems of late, will be the nominee or even a candidate in 2016.
Republicans wooed Christie to run in 2012, but he declined for a variety of reasons. As for 2016, "Yeah, you're damn right I would be more ready," he has said. And, given his success in arctic blue New Jersey, Christie might seem the candidate with the appeal to moderates prognosticator Charlie Cook and others say is necessary for Republicans to reclaim the White House in 2016.
But there is one small problem Christie must overcome before he packs the moving vans for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He must win the Republican nomination first. And after eight years of President Obama—which many in the GOP blame on the party's insistence on nominating moderates John McCain and Mitt Romney—the party is unlikely to want to go that route again.
It's not just "The Hug"—Christie's embrace on the runway of President Obama during the Hurricane Sandy crisis. It's not just the array of candidates to his right who will likely vie for attention—Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Paul Ryan, even Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal among them. It's that the entirety of the conservative movement seems poised for a sharp right turn.
Dick Armey out at FreedomWorks, Jim DeMint in at The Heritage Foundation, John Allison and Lawson Bader, both dedicated libertarians in at Cato and Competitive Enterprise Institute respectively—tells us the intellectual firepower on the right can be expected to take a far more conservative tack in the next four years than Christie seems comfortable supporting.
Moreover, there is widespread dissatisfaction with his go-it-alone, look-out-for-myself attitude. He seemed to take every opportunity to undermine Mitt Romney. It wasn't just the embrace. Romney gave him an enormous opportunity to build a link to the middle for putting a Republican in the White House when he gave Christie the keynote speaking slot at the Republican National Convention. Christie rewarded this with a speech about … Christie, who was running for nothing, rather than the actual nominee, the guy in a tight battle for election, whom Christie mentioned a mere seven times.
Moreover, it's not easy to build sympathy among Republicans, let alone conservative Republicans, for House Speaker John Boehner these days. But Christie managed to do precisely that when he ripped the speaker for not immediately passing the pork-laden Hurricane Sandy relief bill on the very day after conservatives had eaten humble pie on the fiscal cliff negotiations.
There is always tension among Republicans over whether to reach toward the middle with their presidential candidates or to push forward with an unabashedly conservative candidate who can inspire the base. Christie thinks he can be that arm that reaches toward the middle. But if he doesn't figure out a way to inspire the base, it's unlikely he'll ever get the chance.