By Nick Ragone, ,
Published May 07, 2015
President Obama made it official on Monday. He announced that he intends to run for reelection in 2012.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been adamant that he will not seek the Republican nomination in president in 2012.
Among his cavalcade of denials, the one from last November before the press corps in Trenton was the most emphatic, if not existential. "Short of suicide," he pleaded with the assembled, "I don't really know what I'd have to do to convince you people that I'm not running."
Quintessential Christie: sarcastic, blunt, unequivocal. If there was another, more dramatic way to drive home the point, surely he would have used that, too. As for wiggle room, should he experience a change of heart someday, it seemingly leaves none of it.
In a way, it's smart politics. Christie, or those around him, must know that even the slightest coveting of the White House would draw intense ire from Democrats and criticism from the press; it would play too neatly into the narrative that his opponents would love to paint of him -- of an over-eager bully more interested in office-jumping than governing.
In that light, the over-the-top avowals make sense. He's not giving opponents a chance to bludgeon him with anything that resembles national aspiration.
Which begs the question: Could the governor have trotted out a variation of the standard refrain so popular among office-holders seeking greener pastures -- "I'm focused on my current job; I'm not thinking about the future" -- without raising too many eyebrows or suspicion?
Possibly. But that would have been un-Christie like.
One of the governor's strengths, is his image -- irrespective of how cultivated or real -- as the anti-politician. He doesn't look, sound, or act like a typical office-holder. When asked how he would respond to a possible government shutdown last year, he chortled that he'd head home, order a pizza, crack open a beer, and turn on the Mets game. Presumably, many of us would do likewise (perhaps with the exception of the Mets part) under similar circumstances.
So while it would seem, on the face of it, that Christie's hermetically zip-locked denial has eliminated any chance that the governor could make a run in 2012, that might not be entirely correct.
Ever since he took office, Chris Christie has been bending the laws of political physics, mostly to his benefit. For any other politician, reversing course after a litany of emphatic proclamations, one more stout than the next, would be a recipe for political ruin. Aside from inducing a symphony of howls, guffaws, and contemptuous laughter, it would have the effect of permanently stripping all credibility from said office-holder. Even Hillary Clinton would struggle to find a plausible escape clause from Christie's certitude.
But as Rutgers University professor Ross K. Baker recently put it, events sometimes overrule rhetoric, particularly when the "crowds start gathering under the balcony." From the looks of it, far from dispersing, the throngs forming beneath Chris Christie's balcony are growing larger.
Christie and his supporters should keep in mind that seeking national office is a fickle business. In politics, an election cycle is a lifetime. Be forewarned: Just because the stars are aligned today doesn't mean they'll remain aligned forever.
Whether his opponents are willing to admit it or not, however, Christie's stars rest in near perfect symmetry. With the exception of perhaps Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, no other politician is more closely identified with the need for structural budget reform, the singular issue that has come to monopolize our national debate.
The current battle in Congress over budget cuts and a potential government shutdown is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. With a deficit projected in excess of a trillion dollars -- President Obama's third since taking office -- it seems improbable that the issue will recede from consciousness.
Runaway spending, spiraling deficits, and long-term entitlement insolvency will likely form the thrust of the Republican's case against President Obama, irrespective of the candidate. Surely there will be talk of "ObamaCare", the lack of job creation, and foreign policy missteps, but those will be peripheral to the raison d'etre of the Tea Party: the perceived bankrupting of the country.
To the Republican faithful, there's a stark credibility gap between the current crop of aspirants -- Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin -- and Chris Christie on this score. In the minds of many, his actions speak louder than their words.
Could this lead to a genuine "draft Christie" movement?
Don't dismiss it entirely. Eisenhower was dragged into the 1952 contest just days before the New Hampshire primary because the Republican rank and file thought Senator Bob Taft was unelectable. Ronald Reagan was urged to challenge Ford in the 1976 primaries for that same reason -- many on the right believed Ford was irreparably harmed by his pardon of Nixon.
Fearing that Bill Clinton was damaged goods, Democrats tried in vein to coax New York's Mario Cuomo into the New Hampshire primary in 1992, only to see their candidate develop cold feet at the last minute.-- Cuomo couldn't have known that his stars would never align again.
Chris Christie may yet confront a similar choice.
Nick Ragone is the author of "Presidential Leadership: 15 Decisions that Changed the Nation."