In recent days, fascinating advance releases from Dan Balz’s new tell-all book on the 2012 presidential election cycle have reveled that, even as the Republican party elites publicly began to close ranks around Mitt Romney in 2011, many of them privately held desperate hopes that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might throw his hat into the race. In short, the book includes an interview with Christie where the governor unveils his extensive courtship by the party, which included phone calls from Republican hard hitters like Nancy Reagan, George Bush, and the Koch Brothers as well as his own presence at a largely hush-hush dinner where Henry Kissinger spoke on behalf of the attendees — a group made up of 60 of the country’s wealthiest Republican donors — in order to convince Christie to join the race.
Some in the media are treating this information as a looming crisis for Christie, asserting that his newly publicized popularity with both his own party’s elites and its collection of politically meddling billionaires can only detract from the formidable amicability he has built up with potential voters around the country as a quasi-populist, everyman governor who will happily defy the Republican establishment in order to go to bat for his constituents (see the Salon article here). Contrary to pundits' assertions, however, this new information will likely help Christie in his 2016 ambitions, as it reveals that he is currently the only potential Republican presidential candidate with the crucial combination of big donor backing, establishment clout, and broad popular support necessary for securing the White House in 2016.
Of course, even before any mention of Balz’s book emerged in the media this week, Christie’s name already topped many lists of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates. Joined by Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul as major potentials, only Christie brought both the coveted experience as a governor and broad national support to the table (with at or above 50% approval by Republicans, Independents, and even Democrats, according to Politico). In comparison to Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and to a lesser extent Paul Ryan’s strengths as presidential hopefuls has always remained limited by these candidates' lack of long-term experience in national politics and their collective inability to resonate with voters outside of core Republican circles. Any potential run by Jeb Bush, on the other hand, would inevitably run aground as a result of the Florida governor’s toxic family name, which still personifies a troubled legacy of conservative leadership that the Republican Party has quietly attempted to sweep under the rug since losing the White House in 2008. Accordingly, Christie has been the front-runner amongst his Republican peers, a coveted position that, until this weak, remained vulnerable due to his apparent distance from the core of the conservative movement.
Balz’s interview with Christie, however, miraculously remedies this vulnerability in three primary fashions. First, the interview demonstrates that far from being a defiant and isolated member of the Republican Party, the governor was in fact a first choice for president amongst the party’s core leadership. Second, this new information situates Christie as the de-facto "right choice" for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination by verifying a common feeling amongst conservatives that their party could have avoided a painful misadventure with Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012 by simply nominating Christie in the first place. And finally, Christie’s decision to decline elite Republicans’ courtship strongly reinforces the positive component of his reputation for defying the party, as it seems to show that he passed on an opportunity for vast personal political gain in order to continue serving the people of New Jersey.
All in all, these developments provide strong pillars for the budding Christie campaign to stand on by demonstrating that, unlike any other Republican candidate, Chrsitie already possesses the necessary political clout within the Republican Party, elite financial backing from big conservative donors, and nationwide popular support for victory against a potential Hillary Clinton juggernaut in 2016.