By Mike Donohue | The Save Jersey Blog
So, Chris Christie has reached the point where his name is all he needs as an introduction (Really, probably just “Christie”), on a national level. Based on about 40 years of observation, I note that once a person reaches this stature, a swirling eddy of negativity hovers off to the side. It may be quite small, and it grows and shrinks, but there it is. It is a constant. Pick a national celebrity (which, by the way, our politicians are) and you will see that swirling eddy of negativity. The trick for these people is to not let that thing grow to the point where it swallows them up and they become universally hated or simply a joke. Christie’s swirling eddy of negativity is quite small, though it does include a couple of million Philadelphia Eagles fans and presumably some Giants and Redskins fans, not to mention Fort Lee commuters.
But all-in-all, Christie is not being sucked into the vortex. That means that Christie’s national standing is built upon a foundation of mostly people who like the guy. And one may assume that in Republican circles beyond New Jersey (not to the exclusion of NJ), Christie is more liked than not, probably significantly so.
Now, we enter the season where well connected, national Republican figures begin the dance of viability in the eyes of people who can raise millions of dollars for a primary campaign. Christie has been dancing this dance since 2011, picked it up into 2012 only to relax a bit in ’13, but jumped into a full on Primary Dancing with the Stars in 2014, doing the Presidential candidate’s 2-step across America. It seems clear that he discovered he can keep up the pace while juggling being Governor of New Jersey, Chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, husband, father and everything else. In fact, it seemed to suit him. Not so obvious to most of us back here on the ground in Jersey, was that the Chris Christie we all got to know in 2009 was being introduced to America, and perhaps more importantly, to those big fundraisers, throughout 2014. By all accounts the reception was a warm one. More than that, Christie got into many campaign foxholes with various Governors and others and rendered cover fire (i.e. endorsements and money) while those candidates ran to victory. All the while we can assume that a talented and skillful Christie team shored up those alliances and have not let those folks forget who was in the foxhole with them. As a result, given the smiles on some front office faces in New Jersey, it looks like the judges gave a 8, 9 and 7 on Christie’s Primary Viability Dance scores. That’s a solid 8. More than good enough to make it to the next round.
Assume now that Jeb Bush (yes, Bush, that’s his last name) and Mitt Romney are the other two viable challengers to a Christie Republican Primary candidacy. Bush and Romney have some problems. (Yeah, yeah. Scott Walker. Huckabee. Santorum. Ain’t happening. And I like Santorum. He campaigned for me in 2009 in my Assembly race and is a good guy).
Jeb’s name is Bush (did I mention that) and while that counts for a lot in Republican establishment circles, it also doesn’t. Find me an engaged Republican who does not still feel the sucking chest wound of what the Bush name was worth from say, 2006 to, well yesterday, and I will show you someone who is not an engaged Republican. As a result of his brother simply ceding the field to left wing media, quasi-media, alternative media and ham radio operators on national messaging for the last several years of W’s Presidency, the Republican Party was left as a charred hulk that only the colossal failure of the Obama Presidency could help resurrect. I met Jeb Bush once when I was in law school and he came off as a very kind, intelligent and impressive guy. He would be a much different President than his brother. He is well spoken. But, Jeb’s no dancer. He is too refined to dance and is counting on legacy to get this through. That’s a big problem. In American politics today, legacy, as they say in Texas, ain’t worth a pinch of possum shit (See, e.g. Barak H. Obama vs. Hillary Clinton 2008). You gotta be able to dance. Jeb Bush is not a national political figure. Only his last name is and while W’s painting and sympathy for Poppy have knocked a couple of dents out of the door, the Bushmobile is a 1999 Cadillac DeVille with a bad paint job and no rearview mirror. I have to believe that those judges are holding up 5, 6, 4 for Jeb. That’s a 5 on the viability scale.
Mitt, on the other hand, is a dancer. A fine dancer. To say that Mitt Romney is well heeled is like saying that Beyonce’s got some bass to work with. Romney was born into the rarified air of the super rich and breathed it all his life. He knows these people. He is one of them. He has constant access to them because they are his tribe. Mitt’s got the gusto to dip the Leah Remini’s of the fundraising world in that critical climax of the tango. Romney is a lot like George H.W. Bush. He believes in the old concept of noblesse oblige: those who have bear an obligation to give back, and he has lived such a life. But an inescapable aspect of noblesse oblige is that everyone knows you never really got your hands dirty. You had the scratch to do good things without getting down in the mud with the unwashed. Your soul is in good shape, and your fingernails are clean. Alleluia! I also had the pleasure of meeting Mitt Romney a number to times in 2012. Other than the complete and total failure of the National Republican Party to make any serious effort to keep up with the Obama ground game and technological leaps, Mitt had one problem: he doe not translate to video. There is some essence o’ the man that Mitt has in person that he does not have when his speeches are put on the small screen. Romney has the most Reaganesque delivery in a speech than any other major political figure I have been privileged to see speak in person. He connects with an audience. He speaks in approachable platitudes.
But, alas, some digital filter, perhaps placed by the NSA, removes this when the speech goes to video. Instead, he comes off as prozacically stoic, never losing the wry grin in spite of the text. Like the old man in the white beard we all see when we think of God, Mitt Romney is the Presidential candidate we see when we think of what a Presidential candidate should look like. The problem is, central casting has updated the model in the past decade. Mitt has the wrong story. American’s want street cred, not a listing of charitable contributions from one’s tax return. The nation wants someone who has walked home through dark allies at night in the heart of the city with clenched fists and a watchful eye. That is a place the Romney’s haven’t been in generations. So, while those judges are flirting with an 8 or 9 for Mitt, they can’t get past the story. Then, like the head snap of one accidentally dosing at work, the judges remember the ultimate Romney killer: Mitt lost to Barak Obama. Sorry. 5, 4, 5. That’s not quite a 5 on the viability score, Mitt.
Now comes Christie. One of those big men who is light on his feet. A familiar Jackie Gleason, soft shoeing his way along the campaign trail. Intermittently tapping and not afraid to hoist someone over his head. I guarantee he knows a lot about corn and he knows that the blue plate special on Fridays is baked stuffed haddock at the Red Arrow Diner. Christie’s score of 8 is coupled with a story. The University of Delaware screams blue collar (Yes, I left my own mark on the Stone Balloon and had foggy breakfasts at the Deer Park). He is as much Italian as he is Irish. Through a lot of hard work and luck, his family is firmly among the 1% – in this generation. Mitt and Jeb have always been there and know nothing else. That puts Christie within reach of a lot of Americans who are beginning to believe that the American Dream will never happen for them (Again, see Barak H. Obama circa 2008). In Christie they will see the possibility of getting there. Anyone who thinks that Christie won’t have the money to run through the Primary is delusional. And anybody who thinks that the youtube moments and straight talk haven’t made Christie a popular, national figure better be in Colorado so what they’re smoking is legal.
Chris Christie is better positioned than Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney to make a run to the nomination because Republicans are ready to turn the page. No one wants to re-read the Bush and Romney chapters; they want to write a new chapter. Anyone analyzing this contest from New Jersey needs to take their New Jersey glasses off and start looking at this from the cornfields of Iowa and the snowy streets of Manchester. Our lenses are clouded by five years of close proximity. American’s have not seen a straight talking politician since the early days of McCain 2000, and Republicans are ready to have a fighter carry the banner. Christie: Money. Story. Populist appeal. Cha, cha, cha.