Christie’s reaction to these pleas was muted. Instead of issuing another flat “no,” he simply referred to his previous statements. This led to a flurry of speculation in the media that he was seriously considering entering the race, and front page reports that Christie’s support staff was actively investigating what would be needed for him to launch a successful nomination run now.
Governor Christie put that speculation to rest on Tuesday with a formal announcement made at his office in Trenton that he will not enter the race.
In a simple and straightforward statement, Christie said that he had carefully reconsidered his earlier decision not to run, because of all of the “serious” people, including party leaders and ordinary individuals from all walks of life who had urged him to change his mind. In the end, however, Christie said that the deciding factor was his commitment to the people of New Jersey who had elected him governor in 2009, and that by running for president now he would be leaving unfinished too much of his work in New Jersey. Christie said simply, “Now is not my time. I have a commitment to New Jersey which I will not abandon. . . New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me!”
At another point Governor Christie said, “My job in New Jersey is my passion.”
PRIMARY SCHEDULE MOVED UP
Christie’s entry into the race at this point would have been very difficult, from a financial and organizational point of view, because it is already very late in this national campaign cycle. Last week, the amount of time available for a new candidate to put a campaign together was shortened by a full month because of Florida’s decision to move up the primary date to January 28. The Republican National Committee (RNC) had been urging the early voting primary and caucus states to start the voting season no earlier than February. The RNC threatened to penalize states voting before February by reducing the number of votes their delegates could cast at the GOP nominating convention next summer by half. Nevertheless, Florida moved up its primary date, prompting at least four other early voting states to follow its example. South Carolina has announced that it is moving up its primary date to January 21. This means that Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire will also move up their caucus and primary dates to the first half of the month.
The reduced amount of time to put a proper campaign together is particularly important in Iowa and New Hampshire. Voters in those states fully expect to have a chance to meet the candidates personally, and to put them under close scrutiny before voting for them. Historically, after Iowa and New Hampshire vote, many of the weaker candidates drop out.
A LATE CHRISTIE CANDIDACY WAS ALWAYS UNLIKELY
This was why the idea of Christie entering the race at this point was always considered unlikely by this paper.
Last January, Christie said that he had made a pledge to New Jersey voters to serve out his full term as governor. In May, he said he was “thrilled” by the attention, but added “I just don’t want to do it.” In June, he said he was “100 percent certain” that he would not seek the nomination next year, adding that he was making the decision “based on whether I believe in my heart that I’m ready to be president of the United States.”
There were other considerations. Earlier reports said that Christie’s hesitation was due to his concern about the harmful effect his candidacy would have on his wife and their four children, ages 8 to 18.
Not long ago, former first lady Barbara Bush made a call to Christie’s wife to try to convince her that White House life isn’t that bad, and to urge her to reconsider her objections to her husband running for president.
At a September 22nd event with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who decided not to enter the race because of objections from his wife, Christie said that this year just wasn’t the right time for him to run. “It got to be something that you and your family really believes is not only the right thing to do, but I think what you must do at that time in your life both for you and for your country. And for me, the answer to that is that it isn’t.”
When Christie became frustrated by being asked the same question over and over again, he joked that only his suicide could put an end to demands that he would enter the race. He has also attributed his decision not to run, the fact that, “I’m not crazy, that’s why.”
RESPONDING TO PLEAS FROM GOP LEADERS
Out of respect for the senior GOP party leaders and contributors who were urging him to run, Christie said that he and his wife felt compelled to seriously reconsider their earlier decision, but eventually, Christie said, “they came out in the same place.”
In explaining why he came to the same decision, Christie denied that he was concerned about the impact of his candidacy on his family, or the short amount of time available to put an effective campaign together. He said that three weeks ago, his wife had told him that she and his children would support him if he decided to run. He expressed full confidence in the ability of his political staff to gear up in time to run for a national campaign, if he had decided to make the run. Christie said that the deciding factor in his decision, which was not finalized until Monday night, was that “it didn’t feel right to me to leave my work as governor of New Jersey unfinished.”
HINTS THAT CHRISTIE MIGHT BE CHANGING HIS MIND
Last week Christie was campaigning and fundraising in Missouri, Louisiana and California, including a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. During those appearances, members of the audience repeatedly asked him to enter the race. Instead of repeating his previous denials, he started referring them to his previous statements that he would not run. Christie admitted that he was deeply flattered when former first lady Nancy Reagan publicly joined the many GOP leaders who were publicly and privately urging him to get into the race.
Christie said that his decision “has to reside inside me. And so, my answer to you is just this: I thank you for what you are saying, and I take it in and I’m listening to every word of it and feeling it to.” This was, technically, not a change of position, but just the fact that he did not respond with another flat “no” fueled speculation that he was changing his mind about running for the White House.
Christie admitted Tuesday that at the time of that appearance, he was reconsidering his decision not to run, but ultimately decided to stick by his original decision.
STEPPING UP HIS CRITICISM OF OBAMA
The impression that Christie might change his mind and run was reinforced by the content of his speech at the Reagan Library. He stepped up his criticism of Obama’s performance, and warned that US credibility abroad was being damaged by its troubles at home. Christie also said that Obama’s indecisiveness has deepened the nation’s economic pain, and accused the president of using class warfare rhetoric to divide the country in order to improve his chances for re-election.
Obama is “telling those who are scared and struggling that the only way their lives can get better is to diminish the success of others,” Christie said. He’s “insisting that we must tax and take and demonize those who have already achieved the American Dream.”
He criticized Washington politics in general, saying that Congress’ failure to compromise, combined with Obama’s lack of leadership had set the country dangerously off course.
In Washington, “we drift from conflict to conflict, with little or no resolution. We watch a president who once talked about the courage of his convictions, but still has yet found the courage to lead,” Christie said.
“We watch a Congress at war with itself because they are unwilling to leave campaign-style politics at the Capitol’s door. The result is a debt-ceiling limitation debate that made our democracy appear as if we could no longer effectively govern ourselves,” he said.
CONTRASTING OBAMA WITH REAGAN
Christie contrasted Reagan’s leadership skills with the dysfunction in the White House today. He ridiculed Obama’s efforts to portray himself as a compromiser and deal-maker, and said that his experiences since becoming governor have convinced him that “leadership and compromise is the only way you reform New Jersey’s pension and health benefits system.”
Even during the press conference when he announced that he would not run, he re-doubled his criticism of Obama. According to Christie, the president’s fundamental problem is his inability to lead and make decisions, which Christie added, “are things which can’t be taught.”
CHRISTIE’S SUCCESS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN CERTAIN
Even if Christie had decided to enter the race, Perry’s example shows that it is far from certain that he will be able to meet the expectations of party leaders.
Perry had come under similar pressure when he entered the rate, and also came in with a tremendous buildup. His supporters pointed to his unblemished 10-year record as Texas governor, his solid Tea Party support, and his state’s success in creating new jobs.
Like Christie, Perry had a reputation as a GOP crowd pleaser, all-in-all, a near perfect candidate. But on closer inspection, and under the pressure of a national campaign, the attacks of his GOP competitors, and the intense media spotlight, Perry’s faults started to become painfully visible. Last week, he finally retract a harsh statement he made in one of the debates, calling those who criticized his decision to grant tuition discounts at Texas state colleges to illegal immigrants “heartless.” Perry then fell short in the Florida straw poll, losing to Herman Cain, a well-spoken political novice and self-described “dark horse” in the race who is now getting serious scrutiny from GOP conservatives who have become disenchanted by Perry.
The Texas governor is now in danger of suffering the same fate as former Senator Fred Thompson in the race for the 2008 GOP nomination. There was also great anticipation around Thompson’s late entry into that race, but his candidacy quickly fizzled. Like Thompson, Perry’s once promising candidacy has not stood up well under the intense scrutiny and immense pressures of a presidential campaign, and the same thing could have happened to Christie if he decide to run, but now we will never know.
ROMNEY THE BIGGEST BENEFICIARY OF CHRISTIE’S DECISION
The chief beneficiary of Christie’s decision to stay out of the race is Romney. He again is the GOP frontrunner, and remains one with the best chance to defeat Obama.
Romney’s greatest problem is that he is far more attractive to moderate voters in the general election than he is with the conservative Republicans and Tea Party activist who often determine the winners in GOP primaries.
Romney has three major advantages. The first is solid political and private sector experience. He was a former Massachusetts governor, a successful private equity venture capitalist, and the executive who was responsible for the financial success of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.
Romney’s second advantage is his experience as the runner-up in the 2008 GOP presidential primary. Before losing the nomination to John McCain, Romney learned how to win presidential primaries. At the same time, he received thorough scrutiny from the media and party leaders, who forced him to confront his two major disadvantages as a GOP presidential candidate. These are his Mormon faith which he put to rest effectively during the 2008 campaign, and his embarrassingly moderate political positions while governor of Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country, including his mandatory health care plan, which remains a problem in the current campaign.
Romney’s third advantage is his personal fortune, which he used liberally to finance his 2008 campaign, and which gives him staying power in this one. He has been able to afford to buy the best professional political consultants. In this campaign, Romney has used his resources much more effectively than he did four years ago. For example, he has not wasted his time and money trying to compete in states which the GOP is dominated by conservatives where he could not win. Romney’s experience four years ago taught him patience and political strategy, and helped him to hone his campaigning skills.
While the Republicans would much prefer a presidential candidate whose political ideology conforms more closely to the party’s conservative principles, the Democrat operatives in the White House long ago identified Romney as Obama’s most difficult potential challenger. As a result, since last year, the White House has used Romney as its primary target in its re-election campaign.
OBAMA NOW SEEN AS MUCH MORE BEATABLE
The recent Republican desire to further expand its choice of presidential candidates has more to do with the usual complaints against the GOP’s current field. It is also the result of the realization by party leaders that Obama is much more vulnerable to defeat for re-election next year than he was when the current campaign cycle started after 2010 midterm election.
At that time, the conventional political wisdom was that even though Obama’s popularity was low, he still had ample opportunity to recover in time to win re-election, especially if he used the built in political advantages of incumbency efficiently. However, with Obama’s job approval ratings now falling toward the re-election danger point of 40%, and virtually no public confidence in the prospects for an economic recovery before next year’s election, Republicans now believe that they have a much better chance to recapture the White House in 2012, rather than having to wait until 2016, but only if they can put up a sufficiently electable candidate.
As long as they believed that Obama was likely to be re-elected, regardless of who they chose as his challenger, party leaders could look at the race for the presidential nomination as an internal test of power among the GOP’s various factions, such as the religious right, the Tea Party activists, mainstream establishment types, and the libertarians.
That explains the presence in the primary process of a few fringe candidates who never actually have a chance to win the nomination. They are there mainly as a barometer to help measure the relative strength of the groups competing for the party’s leadership, or to publicize their ideas. These are people like Ron Paul in the current election, or Pat Buchanan in previous GOP presidential nomination campaigns.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF RACE
But if a presidential race is deemed winnable, the criteria for choosing a candidate change. Until recently, most Republican leaders have treated the 2012 election only as an opportunity to win a majority in US Senate, and increase their margin of power in the House, but they believed that Obama, despite his unpopularity, was likely to succeed in winning re-election. Therefore they treated the presidential nomination as little more than an internal popularity contest.
But now that Obama looks more beatable, the Republican presidential nomination looks much more valuable than before.
This changes the calculation, not only for party leaders, but also for the new crop of young Republican stars of the future who have gained national attention since 2008. These include Christie, who first attracted nationwide attention by scoring an upset victory in 2009 over Democrat incumbent Governor Jon Corzine. Other up and coming young GOP personalities include Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the party’s chief fiscal conservative, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Until recently, they were busy preparing themselves for a possible presidential run in 2016, after Obama’s second term. They are relatively young, and can afford to wait that long.
A LONGER WAIT
The supporters of these promising GOP personalities are now beginning to believe that they may lose their best opportunity to become president by choosing not run against Obama next year. The growing possibility that Obama will be beaten probably means that they will have to wait 8 years for their next chance to run for president.
The same regrets may now be troubling older, more established party leaders who decided months ago not to run, because they didn’t believe that Obama was beatable. These include Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Until August, their ranks also included Texas Governor Rick Perry. For the others, with the possible exception of Christie, who has developed his own loyal nationwide supporters among conservatives, it is already too late to change their minds.
While Christie was making up his mind, other GOP leaders, friend and foe alike, were weighing in on his qualifications to be president.
Barbour and 2008 GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain endorsed him as a serious contender.
Other Republican opinion-makers who had recently urged Christie to change his mind and enter the race include William Kristol, the founder and editor of the Weekly Standard. He called the famously overweight Christie “a big man for a big job.”
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has said that Christie is, “important to the future of our country,” and that he would be the candidate who could “best represent United States interests abroad.”
Even Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Fox network and a worldwide chain of newspapers, reportedly urged Christie to run.
ENDORSEMENTS FROM FELLOW GOVERNORS
Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who has been suggested as a potential vice presidential pick, said Christie offers “unique” qualities to add to the current mix of GOP candidates. “He’s an extraordinary communicator. He’s a great governor, enormous reforms and everything from the pension system to budget reform in a blue state.” McDonnel added that he’d be surprised if Christie wound up as the GOP presidential candidate but if that happened, he “would fare very well against the president.”
Other Republican governors who encouraged Christie to run include John Kasich of Ohio, who said at a recent forum that Christie “has a certain magic about him.”
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin said he believed that Christie would bring “intelligent straight talk” to the race but was undecided as to whether he should run.
CHRISTIE WASN’T READY
“Do I think Christie should run? My heart says without a doubt – with that passion and because of his excitement,” Walker said. “My head looks at it, though, and thinks anyone who is in their first term as governor needs to run for re-election first. It’s tough to be ready to be a candidate and to be well versed, particularly in foreign policy, and to have an organization.”
Walker’s point is well taken. While there are not many major difference between the leading GOP candidates in terms of their positions on the key domestic issues, there is a vast gulf separating them in terms of their political experience and the depth of their knowledge of national security and foreign affairs.
REVIEWING CANDIDATE CREDENTIALS
By far, the most well versed candidate on that score is Newt Gingrich, who has been prominent in national politics for more than 20 years, and is one of the GOP’s most brilliant and original thinkers on both domestic and foreign affairs. Unfortunately, Gingrich’s acid tongue, controversial personal background and checkered political history allowed the Democrats to thoroughly demonize his public image when he was House Speaker 17 years ago, and the damage done to his reputation at the time makes him virtually unelectible today. However, his brilliant insights have enlivened the debates and helped to shape the GOP campaign against Obama and the Democrats. While he remains unlikely to win the nomination, his position as an elder statesman of the party, and influential policy-maker in any future GOP administration, is assured.
Another seasoned veteran with well-developed policy ideas on a broad range of issues is former Senator Rick Santorum. While still popular among conservatives, his poll numbers are now so low that he is also very unlikely to emerge with the nomination.
Among the current front-runners in the race, Perry and Romney have the broadest experience. Perry has served as the successful governor of a large state for more than a decade, while Romney boasts a broad and well-balanced record of executive experience as governor, in private business and finance, and in organizing a highly successful major international sporting event In addition, due to his run for the presidency in 2008, Romney has a more thoroughly thought through set of positions on foreign affairs and national security issues than Perry does.
EXPERIENCE IS A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
The advantage of a significant record of public service has proven to be something of a double-edged sword for both Perry and Romney. It has given their opponents the opportunity to examine that record with a fine tooth comb to extract problematic policy positions with the GOP voter base. In Romney’s case, his biggest vulnerability with GOP voters is the similarity of his Massachusetts health care plan with Obamacare. He has also had to explain his relatively recent adoption of more conservative positions on social issues since stepping down as governor. However, based upon his experience from his run in 2008, he has been able to come up with explanations which satisfied many, but not all Republican voters.
The intense scrutiny of Perry’s record as governor of Texas since he entered the race has unveiled a serious questions about his preferential policies regarding illegal immigrants attending state colleges, which led him to stumble in the debates, and contributed to his recent decline in the race. Nevertheless, both Perry and Romney seem to be far more qualified in terms of their experience than the Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain. Both are conservatives with a populist appeal and Tea Party support, running on an anti-Washington platform
Michelle Bachmann, who was the leading conservative candidate before Perry entered the race, has a thin public service record. She has only been in Congress since 2007, and has a relatively sparse record as a legislator. Furthermore, she has had to go back and explain several of her policy positions, as well as some of her more provocative factual allegations, when they did not stand up under close scrutiny. However, she does have a record of very strong support for Israel, stemming from her experience working on an Israeli kibbutz for a year after she graduated high school.
Herman Cain has no public service record at all. He often boasts that he is the only non-professional politician in the race. While his extensive business experience, as well his tenure as a board member of one the regional Federal Reserve banks, speak well of his ability to deal with this country’s economic problems, he has very little experience to guide him as president on a broad range of domestic, national security and foreign policy issues.
Cain saw Christie’s possible entry as a potential obstacle to his current rise toward the top of the GOP field, and has been critical of his credentials to head the GOP ticket. Cain said last week that, “I believe that a lot of conservatives, once they know his positions …. they’re not going to be able to support him. So, I think that is absolutely a liability for him if he gets in the race.”
Since winning the Florida straw poll last week, Cain has been surging in the polls, but Romney is once again the front-runner. Romney is now the favorite presidential candidate of 25% of Republicans, with Perry and Cain tied for second place at 16%. This represents a 13 point drop for Romney and a 12 point rise for Cain since last month. Ron Paul is in third place with 11%, and there is a fourth place tie between Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann at 7% each.
ROMNEY AS THE LAST MAN STANDING
Despite all the second thoughts about their current choices, Republicans are fortunate to have Romney as a credible and very electable mainstream alternative to Obama. Admittedly, Romney’s ideological profile is suspect in the eyes of many conservatives, and there are those on the religious right who are still uncomfortable with his Mormon faith. Yet, he is still considered to be the strongest GOP opponent for Obama in next year’s presidential election. In the end, that may be enough to convince otherwise Republicans to support him, especially if the leading conservative alternatives, like Perry, Bachmann and Cain, continue to stumble or lose their appeal under closer scrutiny.