Speculation that Chris Christie will end up on the Republican Party’s national ticket in 2012 makes for interesting copy and conversation, but the odds are slim that the popular New Jersey Governor will be on the ballot as a candidate for President or Vice President.
Sure, there are plenty of reasons why a Christie candidacy sounds feasible. With no strong frontrunner for the GOP nomination, he has emerged as a rising star in the Republican Party. A year ago, he managed to attract enough independent voters and frustrated Democrats to win election in a blue state -- and he still has a 51 percent approval rating. No wonder he was in high demand this fall and spent time campaigning with fellow Republicans in Iowa, California, Indiana and several other states.
However, as many others before him have discovered, the road to the White House is filled with detours, roadblocks and more.
In Christie’s case, let’s start by putting things into context. He is not the first New Jersey Governor to take office and quickly find his or her name mentioned as a national candidate. In fact, this occurs on a fairly regular basis simply because of the election cycle. New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states to hold gubernatorial elections in odd years, so the winners always receive considerable attention – although the amount of interest in Christie has been greater than the norm.
All attention aside, the next presidential election is two years away – a lifetime in politics. At the moment, President Obama and the Democratic Party are licking their wounds, but things change quickly in politics –especially in today’s world when voters hungry for change have little patience. Two years ago, the Republican Party suffered devastating defeats in the Presidential and Congressional elections. The GOP rebounded this year, but the party could find itself on the outs if it fails to deliver over the next two years. Should that be the case, why would Chris Christie be willing to jeopardize his political future for a race he might not win? He is still a young enough man to run in 2016, when there may not be an incumbent at the top of the ticket – and he also will have a few more years of experience as Governor under his belt.
That experience, however, is a double-edged sword. The longer Christie is in office, the more difficult it becomes to blame his Democratic predecessors for the state’s problems– something he has managed to do quite effectively. At some point, those problems become his problems.
To date, Christie’s approach to fiscal issues and public policy has been bold and controversial – and his future may very well be determined by the fate of the steps he has put into motion. Should his initiatives work and the economy recover, he could have a smooth ride to the White House. On the other hand, if property taxes remain high, the quality of education suffers from cuts to school aid, and tuitions at state colleges and universities continue to rise, he will get the blame – fairly or unfairly – since the Governor is the most visible public figure in the state.
While the jury still is out on how the chips will fall, Christie’s record does not fully support his rhetoric – and this also is likely to become an issue that could work against him. Should he become a national candidate, he would be subject himself to the scrutiny of the national media, as well as the opposition research of his GOP primary opponents. Savvy out-of-state journalists already are raising questions about the Governor’s record.
For example, Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post noted that New Jersey’s state budget “is hardly the conservative panacea that Christie has cast it as. The budget was balanced by deferring $3 billion the government was to pay into its state pension system and eliminated a tax rebate homeowners were supposed to receive.”
Such actions run counter to what Christie said on the campaign trail last year, Eric Zorn wrote in a Chicago Tribune column after the New Jersey governor visited Illinois to campaign for GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady.
“During last year's campaign, Christie pledged to restore cuts (then Governor Jon) Corzine had made to the rebate program, cuts he blasted then as tantamount to ‘war on the middle class’,” Zorn noted. “Christie also campaigned against the ‘unconscionable’ practice of state borrowing to make required annual payments into pension funds. His solution after he was sworn in earlier this year? He skipped the $3.1 billion pension payment altogether.”
And back home in New Jersey, The Asbury Park Press suggested that before GOP hopefuls in other states start promising to follow in Christie’s footsteps, they take a closer look at his record. “Maybe it's the jet lag, but the last time we looked, the governor hadn't actually finished much of anything he has set out to do,” the newspaper wrote in an October 28 editorial.
Perhaps, the biggest reason we won’t find Christie on a national ticket in 2012 comes from the Governor himself, who has consistently and adamantly denied any interest in throwing his hat into the ring. “Short of suicide, I don't really know what I'd have to do to convince you people that I'm not running,” Christie told reporters this week. “I've said I don't want to. I'm not going to,” he added. “There is zero chance I will.”
The usual reaction to such comments is to take them with a grain of salt because a common scenario is that the individual in question really does have his or her eyes set on higher office. But Chris Christie is not a usual politician nor does he follow common scenarios, so perhaps we will just have to wait and see which path he chooses to take.