If Christie is Serious, Then Romney's Got Big Trouble; Obama Campaign Outlines Attack Strategy
Romney Needs Christie on the Sidelines
"He has been on a lot of sides of the same issue. So, Mitt needs to get a position and stick with it. He is flipping more than that great movie star Flipper.''
-- Texas Gov. Rick Perry talking to FOX News colleague Carl Cameron.
After weeks of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hoping that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would keep the intrigue alive before re-finalizing his decision not to run for president, it's Texas Gov. Rick Perry's turn to do the hoping.
For Perry it's a wish that Christie re-opens the door to a White House run and gives moderate Massachuser Romney a taste of what the Texan has had to contend with for his two months in the race: a divided base. Christie is said to be preparing a mid-week announcement and Romney needs a definite "no."
The only threat to Romney's core support so far has been the candidacy of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. But while Huntsman looked good on the pages of Politico, it turned out that there was little interest in the Republican electorate for a second moderate Mormon candidate. Romney has had to do little to respond to Huntsman, even as the Obama appointee increasingly focuses his dwindling resources on upsetting his rival in New Hampshire.
If Christie runs, though, it would be a calamity for Romney.
While it is fashionable to paint the Republicans as a party of extremists, the truth is that the GOP is variegated. Southern conservative evangelicals dominate the party, but Romney has proven that there is a considerable group that prefers a more moderate candidate, even one from the deep-blue confines of New England.
It wouldn't normally be enough to win the GOP nomination, but Romney has been advantaged by the ongoing divisions inside the Republican right. While Perry has emerged as a late contender, his weak performance in the FOX News/Google debate has left the door open to other conservative candidates, both cultural and fiscal. There's been Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Sen. Rick Santorum, and now there's businessman Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
While Perry has been defending himself from a sustained attack from the right, Romney has mostly gone untouched as the GOP base settles scores. Both Santorum and Cain are 2008 Romney backers who are likely to eventually fall in behind the current frontrunner, and purists Bachmann and Paul are unlikely to line up with anyone. Only eternal optimist Gingrich seems prone to back whomever emerges as his party's nominee.
Northeastern moderate Christie, though, would be a tough dose for Romney to take. Christie has tremendous support inside the Republican establishment, which is more moderate than the rank and file to begin with. Christie's support of some gun control measures, embrace of civil unions for gay couples, decision to minimize abortion as an issue and appointing of a Muslim activist to New Jersey's Superior Court are all pluses for Republicans who believe the party has gone too far right and needs to moderate in order to defeat Obama next year.
While Perry has managed to hold on to top-tier status despite his poor debate showing, Romney has little room for error. Romney's strategy depends on winning early primaries in more moderate New Hampshire and Nevada to answer probable Perry wins in Iowa and South Carolina. Romney then needs to win in Florida before settling in for a long haul in a nomination process the Steele-era Republican National Committee decided to make as long as possible.
If Christie were to run, many moderate GOPers who have increasingly come to accept Romney as their standard bearer would jump ship. While Christie might not be able to upset Romney in New Hampshire, where Romney keeps a summer home, or in heavily Mormon Nevada, the New Jerseyian would cut into Romney's support in Florida and in the all-important stealth primary for establishment support. One can see how the David Frum set would leap for Christie, cutting into a core constituency for Romney.
Christie's presidential hand-wringing has been helpful to Romney since it has allowed his campaign to continue to argue that the GOP field is in flux. Christie's Hamlet play has kept some big-money donors on the sidelines and forestalled the moment at which Republicans come to accept their fate and choose between two imperfect frontrunners. Since Christie is mostly known for his tough talk and not his moderate politics, he's been a net negative to Perry as a quasi candidate.
But if Christie were to decide to run, it would be only bad news for Romney. Christie could actually deliver what Huntsman threatened: a centrist rivalry. Romney's greatest strength so far has been his implacable support in the center. He has not increased his share of the electorate, but has emerged as the frontrunner by holding fast to a quarter of the GOP. If Christie were to divide that base, it would mean big trouble.
Obama Dreadnaught Opens Fire
"The campaign to win the Republican nomination has become a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Tea Party. They would return to policies that have been tried before and done nothing to improve economic security for the middle class, rewarding special interests who can afford to pay for lobbyists instead of looking out for working families."
-- Strategy memo from Ben LaBolt, press secretary for the Obama 2012 campaign.
President Obama's fall campaign kickoff, based on a $450 billion stimulus proposal and a plan for a $2 trillion tax increase on top earners, has suffered because Democrats in the Senate have declined to "pass this bill today."
Now House Republicans are able to ask Obama why he won't support their economic legislation aimed at curbing regulation.
House Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the GOP leadership sent a letter to Obama today with the following suggestion:
"The federal government has a responsibility under the Constitution to regulate interstate commerce, and there are reasonable regulations that protect our children and help keep our environment clean. But there are also excessive regulations that unnecessarily increase costs for consumers and small businesses, and make it harder for our economy to create jobs."
That's not the discussion the White House was hoping to be having right now.
Obama planned to have a Trumanesque fall running against a do-nothing Congress, but his fellow Democrats in the Senate have undercut him badly. The White House has turned down the volume on the president's stimulus pitch as the Senate has grown balkier. It's one thing to be clashing with a House that the president's campaign says is too radical, but quite another to be at odds with the moderate, divided Senate.
So where to now for Obama 2012?
We get some insight today from the first campaign strategy memo by Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. His basic premise for his boss' re-election is that none of the Republicans is acceptable. The Obama argument is that whomever the Republicans pick is too extreme for America.
This is coupled with the new declinist narrative from the president. Obama is increasingly arguing that America is in such bad shape ("a little soft") that the current malaise was unavoidable and that he has performed better than most would have under such trying circumstances. And given such a dire moment for the nation, Obama's campaign now argues that no Republican can handle the moment.
Obama 2012: "If you think this is bad, you should try it with the other guys."
The memo puts Republicans on notice. Obama will spend nearly $1 billion (much more given the outlays by independent attack organizations) declaring any Republican unfit for office.
This is a campaign strategy that will make the 2004 Bush campaign aimed at disqualifying John Kerry for the presidency look positive. This will almost certainly be the most negative campaign ever waged by a sitting president.