For one brief, shining moment, the media were having a grand time imagining Chris Christie in the White House.
Now comes the backlash.
As the New Jersey governor won a landslide reelection, even some liberal commentators were praising his passionate style and ability to sell his brand of Republicanism in a blue state. The MSM’s theme was clear: Christie has the charisma to unify his party and yank it back from the Ted Cruz/Rand Paul approach that many journalists view as extremism.
Then, like wild-and-crazy party people waking up with a hangover, the pundits seemed to collectively slap their foreheads and say, wait a minute! What were we thinking? No way that Chris Christie is going to be able to barrel his way to the nomination.
The New Republic doesn’t hedge any bets, with the headline: “This Man Will Not Be President.”
Thanks for settling that, it will save me all kinds of time over the next three years.
Now these morning-after pieces are actually a kind of self-correcting mechanism. The media’s natural affinity for Christie as a tough-talking Jersey Shore kinda guy was portraying him as an unstoppable force. And that, in the current GOP environment, is a distortion of reality.
Christie, who devoted part of his victory speech to his love of hugging people, is a different kind of candidate. But however popular he is in New Jersey, he may not play in Iowa.
He may have attracted lots of Democratic votes on Tuesday and talked about the need for bipartisanship, but that by itself makes him highly suspect to the Tea Party.
In fact, hard-line conservatives may believe the media are pushing Christie precisely because he’s a more centrist Republican of the establishment variety.
Still, the press appears bipolar in swinging so quickly to the can-Christie-really-win camp.
That New Republic piece makes the case that he faces huge obstacles:
“If Christie can somehow be considered the front-runner for the 2016 nomination, however, it is only because of a dearth of strong Republican candidates. His political shortcomings are much more acute than people realize. These shortcomings are generally considered to be an abrasive personal style (Cohn: ‘It’s unclear how Christie’s Jersey Shore demeanor and temperament will play in Iowa or New Hampshire’) and skepticism from the GOP base (Cillizza: ‘The only question for Christie is whether the power center of the party has moved so far toward the tea party that — with his focus on pragmatism over principle and winning over all else — he simply cannot be its choice’). But because Christie needs his abrasiveness to help him with the base, these two issues are likely to become interconnected in any Republican primary, and will probably doom his chances to ascend to the White House even if he becomes the nominee…
“When Christie is inevitably attacked by his competitors on some of the issues Cohn mentions, then expect him to go into full-bore angry guy mode. “The GOP primary is thus going to set up a dynamic in which Christie will have to rely on his worst instincts. If you think Mitt Romney was forced into unpalatable general election positions during his primary campaign, just wait until Christie uses his anger to deflect attacks and provides a whole slew of new YouTube clips. The other option is to rebrand himself as a staunch right-winger, which could do the trick in the primary, but will also hinder his efforts to be a different type of Republican.”
Angry guy mode: be prepared for a slew of pieces about Christie’s temperament and whether or not he’s “presidential.” John McCain went through the same thing in 2008.
New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait has a laundry list of Christie problems that range from professional to personal:
“Shepherding Christie through a competitive Republican primary will be vastly more difficult than anybody seems to be figuring at the moment. Four basic, interrelated problems stand between Christie and the 2016 nomination:
“His ideological deviations are not fake. They’re real. Christie has openly endorsed gun control, called for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and conceded the legitimacy of climate science (‘But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts.’)"
The largest, and least appreciated, of Christie’s betrayals of party doctrine is his decision to participate in the expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare…
“Christie lacks a deft touch. The Christie method for retaining the goodwill of his party has been: Whatever he loses through policy squishiness, he wins back in personal abuse. In the past, I have heavily discounted the possibility that this kind of style can translate beyond New Jersey. It is possible that I am underselling Christie’s personal appeal in states that have not spawned The Sopranos and Jersey Shore. Maybe America is truly ready for a loud, angry man in the White House. But are Republican voters?”
There’s that word again, angry.
And Chait, noting that the governor ran into VP vetting problems with Mitt Romney, also says “Christie may actually be shady.”
Gonna be a long three years.
Slate’s John Dickerson offers the good and the bad:
“Christie's advantages for the 2016 presidential race are many: He's a media darling, can raise boatloads of cash, has a plausible nomination story, and he's an exciting and forceful personality. But like other high-expectation candidates, he has also never been tested in the unique crucible of a presidential campaign. Christie is a volatile hothead about to enter a process that makes the most even-tempered fly off the handle. Primaries are irritating, petty, and grueling, and 2016 could be particularly brutish if it turns out to be the grand reckoning in the GOP’s civil war over the soul of the party.”
Dickerson sees a brewing “fight that will test his temperament. He could very well survive the Republican primaries just fine—the GOP has tapped the establishment candidate more often than not—but the question for Christie is whether he has the skills to emerge from the warping primary process with his pleasing bedtime story intact. That has always been a challenge for any candidate, but it may be particularly acute in Christie’s case: Grassroots Republicans are trying to look into candidates’ souls and Christie’s can be a volatile place. Bombast and periodic eruptions are part of Christie's act, but what is that going to look like when he pops off at some conservative activist who corners him in a windowless ballroom at a Lincoln Day Dinner?”
As for the right, Fox’s Sean Hannity said yesterday on his radio show that Christie is “not in the mainstream of conservatism” and that once he jumps into the presidential race the media will turn into his “worst enemy.”
Christie should enjoy the afterglow of victory while he can.
The Perils of Polling
Remember how the media were convinced, on the basis of a few surveys, that Terry McAuliffe would bury Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race?
Politico on Sunday: “Ken Cuccinelli Fights Stench of Doom.”
Politico on Wednesday: “How the heck did that happen?”
Um, because lots of media outlets were determined to write Cuccinelli’s advance obituary, only to watch him lose by 2-1/2 points?
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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.