The 2016 presidential election is now on the minds of
many Americans who pay close attention to politics, and
although there will be no incumbent president running in
2016, the Democratic nomination seems to have been
settled on Hillary Clinton, assuming that she runs.
The Republican nomination, however, seems to be a wide open
question right now, and even lacks a consensus frontrunner.
I suggest that, once again, the most formidable contender for
the conservative party’s nomination is Governor Chris Christie
of New Jersey.
He had been a early favorite many months ago until a local
New Jersey scandal threatened to demolish any aspirations he
might have for higher office. The “scandal” itself was
“distasteful” and inexcusable, but any direct or even culpable
indirect role of the governor in the event turned out to be
non-existent. That this “scandal” was meant politically to derail
a very promising Republican national figure, however, became
obvious. Governor Christie’s handling of the allegations and
insinuations was something to behold. He, in effect, wrote a
new book in political crisis management.
He is no stranger to controversy. In the final days of the 2012
presidential campaign, after a hurricane devastated parts of
New Jersey, Christie welcomed and “embraced” President Obama
to the state at a time when the election outcome was in doubt.
Governor Christie needed presidential help to meet the serious
problems arising from the natural disaster, but he seemed
oblivious to political appearances. Many Republicans declared
they would subsequently not ever support Christie if he ran for
president. His poll numbers took a dive. “Sage” political
observers, political consultants and pundits alike, wrote and
rewrote his political obituary.
Employing his natural instinct to remain on offense, and his
remarkable speaking skills, Christie immediately faced the
public and the press after the New Jersey “bridge scandal”
with his side of the story. Damage had unquestionably been done,
but in subsequent months, employing his role as chair of the
Republican Governors Association (RGA), he demonstrated his
skills as a spokesman, inspiration and fundraiser for his party.
He had won re-election in New Jersey with 58% of the vote in spite
of the state being a very Democratic or “blue” state. After the
scandal, his poll numbers dropped precipitously. Today, they are
partially recovered, especially among Republicans.
Not only did he raise more money for gubernatorial campaigns in
2014, he raised more money than anyone had before. He campaigned
tirelessly for GOP gubernatorial candidates, both incumbents and
challengers, and everywhere he went he was enthusiastically
welcomed (unlike a certain incumbent president of the Untied
States). So much for his political obituary.
The biggest media story from the results of the 2014 national
midterm elections was the Republican takeover of the U.S. senate.
Perhaps the bigger political story, however, is the performance
of several GOP governors winning re-election against considerable
odds. There were many more incumbent Republican governorships
at stake in 2014, and virtually all observers predicted Democratic
net gains even if there were a GOP wave in congressional races.
Governor Christie, as RGA chair, skillfully raised funds for GOP
gubernatorial races (significantly out-raising the Democrats), and
as the biggest Republican “star,” campaigned non-stop for virtually
all of his party’s gubernatorial candidates, many of whom were very
vulnerable in 2014. Most of them nevertheless won. As a result, he
can take some notable credit for the remarkable outcome, I think
it’s fair to say that Governor Christie was the biggest individual
winner of 2014, and he was not even on the ballot.
I am not yet predicting he will be the Republican nominee for
president in 2014, but after reviewing the many other known
hopefuls for that nomination, I feel safe to say that he is among the
two or three frontrunners for it, and perhaps already (again) the
man to beat.
He has obvious political handicaps to overcome before the 2016
GOP national convention. As a conservative governor from a liberal
state, some of his political views do not conform to party orthodoxy.
Some Republicans have not forgotten his “embrace” of Barack
Obama in 2012, and others remain skeptical about his role in the
recent scandal. “Perhaps he could win the general election,” some
go on to say, “but he cannot be nominated.”
The nomination process lies ahead, and how he might win that
prize is the challenge that faces him and his strategists, but I point
to the central strength of his candidacy: He is the only national
Republican figure who understands his party’s need to assume
the offense in national politics, and to take the risk of confronting
the liberal establishment of regulatory advocates, class warriors,
union leaders and other forces of liberal special interests. He is also
by far the national Republican personality with the most charisma.
He does have weaknesses and shortcomings, and these might yet
keep him from the nomination. He will face a large field of fellow
Republicans in the primary/caucus process, and then, even if he
is successful, he will probably have to face Mrs. Clinton. All of this
is yet to come, and will be formidable. More than anything else,
Chris Christie will have to demonstrate to his party, and then to
the nation, that he can learn from his own past, and from the
polarizing travail of the Obama years.
By 2016, not only his party, but the whole nation, will be yearning
for someone to take charge in Washington, DC, someone who can
not only lead well and wisely, but also truly inspire.
[POSTSCRIPT: Lest some readers think I am being partisan
in the above, I remind them that in 1990-91 I wrote several articles
saying that Governor Bill Clinton was going to be the Democratic
nominee, and then the president. Even when “scandals” seemed
to have doomed his prospects in the winter of 1991-92, I was
outspoken and consistent in predicting his victory. Some political
figures have an invisible tattoo of destiny......]
Copyright 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.