New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie probably had more suitors than Portia in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" and yet in the end he made the right decision not to run for president. It was the correct decision on several levels.
First, the media, which loves to build people up in order to tear them down, would have immediately heightened the conflict between the Republican Party's two wings. There would have been multiple interviews with Republicans who don't like Christie's position that illegal immigrants have not broken the law, or what they regard as his "softness" on gun control, by which they mean his favoring laws banning assault weapons. The website "Conservative New Jersey" brands Christie a "weasel."
Second, the poll numbers. Whatever "not my time" explanation Christie has given for again, and now finally, declining to run for president, the pragmatic reason had to be the polls. While Texas Governor Rick Perry's approval numbers were surging prior to his entering the race, Christie's have been declining. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, "Nearly six in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents either don't want or don't know if they want Chris Christie to run for president in 2012."
The poll analysis allowed that some of the "don't knows" may result from Christie not yet being nationally known, "But what the polling does suggest," the Post reports, "is that the idea that Christie would immediately catapult to the top of the field due to an overwhelming organic desire for his candidacy among GOP voters may be overstated."
Third, his size. Christie's girth would provide plenty of material for Leno and Letterman and a host of stand-up comedians. As a public figure he's fair game, surely, but obesity is not really a laughing matter, is it?
Christie was in the hospital at the end of July because he had difficulty breathing. He is an asthmatic, but his considerable size makes him subject as he ages to major medical problems, especially under the stress that goes with the presidency. The last president who was as heavy as Christie was William Howard Taft, but that was 100 years ago before the television age. Anyone noticing Christie greeting a trim and fit-looking President Obama during the president's tour of flood areas in the Northeast immediately saw the contrast.
At 49, Christie still has plenty of time should he choose to run for president. What he should do now is concentrate on New Jersey and strengthen the state's economy. While New Jersey's credit rating was recently downgraded by Moody's and Standard and Poor, Christie's defenders make a good argument that since he's only been in office two years he can't be blamed for the economically harmful policies of his predecessor.
In his "Fact Checker" column for The Washington Post, Glenn Kessler writes, "New Jersey's unemployment rate jumped from 9.1 to 9.5 percent during Christie's first year in office, but it's highly debatable whether he should take the blame for that. The state has also shown a tiny improvement since then, with unemployment dropping to 9.4 percent as of August."
Christie must get serious about shedding weight. Not only will he feel better, he'll look better, which is critical in the TV era. And he might live longer, which ought to be incentive enough. He can contact Drew Carey for inspiration. The host of "The Price is Right" lost 80 pounds on a strict no-carb diet and looks great.
Christie can also modify some of his political positions to better fit today's Republican Party and a national campaign, should he eventually choose to conduct one.
Whatever he decides to do, Christie has already demonstrated his value to the GOP. He could be instrumental in helping to deliver deeply "blue" New Jersey to the eventual Republican presidential nominee. If he does that and his state's economy rebounds, look out for Chris Christie in four or eight years, because his time by then might very well be right.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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