We interrupt our continuing coverage of Chris Christie to examine which Republicans have a better shot at the presidency if Christie is damaged goods.
Which is sheer speculation, of course. And that happens to be the media’s specialty.
Bill Kristol stirred up a bit of a fuss yesterday by declaring that there’s no reason Sarah Palin shouldn’t run for president. Kristol, whose Weekly Standard was a major Palin booster in 2008, didn’t predict she would win, but he said she'd have a major impact on the race.
Kristol, a former Fox News contributor, also forecast on “Morning Joe” that two other Fox contributors would run: Mike Huckabee and former U.N ambassador John Bolton. (Both have said they’re looking at the race.)
I have no inside information here, but Palin certainly wouldn’t lack for media attention. Kristol, who worked in the Bush 41 White House, is a well-connected Republican, and if this was a trial balloon, it raises intriguing questions.
On the MSNBC morning show, Chuck Todd pushed back, saying that if Palin ran it would be for “a financial reason, to get back into the spotlight. Get the speaking fees back up.”
This annoyed Kristol, who said that the establishment takes seriously such candidates as Jon Huntsman (who flopped), but dismisses the likes of Palin and Huckabee as people who “just want to make money.” Host Joe Scarborough (also named by Kristol as a 2016 dark horse) said Palin’s populist message could resonate in the GOP primaries but that she hurt herself by resigning as Alaska governor.
There are, of course, multiple reasons that folks jump into a White House race, from increased visibility to boosting career prospects to positioning for a VP slot. Just ask Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and many others.
Palin has a passionate following among Tea Party types, but she would also expose herself again to mockery from the mainstream media. She would have to decide whether the grueling nature of a campaign is worth giving up her television gigs.
Much of this talk is being spurred by the Christie vacuum in the wake of the bridge scandal. Even Mitt Romney, who’s been on the TV circuit after that favorable Netflix documentary, is being asked whether he’d give it a third try. His answer is no way.
There is chatter now about other governors, such as Scott Walker. Perhaps the most important name on Kristol’s list is Jeb Bush, who says he is looking at the race but won’t decide soon. The media would immediately treat Bush as a heavyweight and he would in effect become the establishment candidate.
The dilemma for the former Florida governor is that he has openly questioned how far to the right his party has moved. He would be, fairly or not, saddled with defending his brother’s presidential record. And, by the way, Bush’s own mother doesn’t want him to run.
In The Week, Damon Linker all but declares the primaries over:
“It's beginning to dawn on me that Jeb Bush is probably going to be the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2016.
"Consider: With the ongoing implosion of Chris Christie's political career, the GOP establishment has lost its best hope for a candidate who could stop a libertarian-populist insurgency during the primaries. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker — the list of viable fire-breathers is longer (and less dominated by incompetents, crazies, and one-note sideshow acts) than establishment types would like.”
As for the last-name problem, he says: “Yes, Jeb would be freighted by bad memories of his brother's failed presidency. But he might be helped by warm memories of his father's presidency.”
But American Conservative’s Daniel Larison strongly disagrees:
“Like his brother when he ran for president, Jeb Bush has no foreign policy experience to speak of, and to the best of my knowledge he has never shown much interest in the subject. Given his brother’s disastrous record, I doubt that enough Republicans would want to take that kind of chance again.
“Considering the state that the last Bush left the GOP in, there can’t be very many Republicans that want to turn to that family a third time for leadership.”
Bottom line: The Republican Party is trying to find someone who can beat Hillary Clinton. A Palin-Hillary race would be absolute gold for the press. And a Bush-Clinton race would conjure memories of 1992, a clash between two royal political families that never seem to leave the scene. Assuming, that is, that one or both of them run.
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.