Yeah, you're damn right I'm writing a 2016 post...you got a problem with that, chump? (Forgive me, I'm still fine-tuning my Chris Christie impression). But in all seriousness, it's a slowish news week, and I've managed to resist the general subject for well over a month -- this minor detour excluded -- so why not? Christie is gearing up for his re-election campaign in New Jersey, which could turn out to be something of a romp. His ratings are sky high, his toughest potential challenger decided to focus his ambitions elsewhere, and he may eventually square off against an ex-bureaucrat with a penchant for using virtual pseudonyms to conceal her official activities. I wouldn't say Christie's counting his chickens just yet, but he is entertaining questions about a 2016 presidential bid beyond a dismissive wave of the hand. By the time that cycle heats up, the Big Man hopes to find himself in the final stages of a two-term governorship with a relatively deep reservoir of bipartisan respect and accomplishment. This certainly sounds like a man who's starting to dip his toes in the deep end:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said in an interview published Sunday that he would be "more ready" to mount a presidential bid in 2016, after declining to run in the last presidential cycle. "Yeah, you’re damn right I’d be more ready," Christie said in an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger. In 2011, Christie considered jumping into the race for the Republican nomination before ultimately deciding against a run. At a press conference with reporters, Christie cited his "loyalty to this state" in opting against a bid. Christie said in the interview Sunday that he believes he's growing as a politician. "In the end, what I’ve learned is that there’s still a lot for me to learn," he said. "And I can get better." Christie cited a recent meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres as an example of a learning moment.
"Governor, I’ve really looked forward to meeting you," Peres said, according to Christie. "I’m like, 'You’ve got to be kidding me. You look forward to meeting me? Are you kidding? You’re like a walking history book.'" Christie said he then had to ask himself: "Are you a complete, like, Justin Bieber fan, sitting there fawning over Shimon Peres, or can you actually learn to conduct yourself with some measure of control and maturity?" Christie also said his experiences campaigning with Mitt Romney excited him about the possibility of seeking national office. "I was jazzed. I was like, 'OK, here we go.' And Romney could tell," Christie said.
In his "damn right" assessment, Christie is simply comparing his prospective preparedness for national office to his level of experience in 2011 and 2012. The basic logic is hard to dispute. Still, when I first started reading headlines like these, I couldn't help but wonder if he was also laying down some sly resume-related markers to distinguish himself from certain future rivals. If Christie does run, he'd likely play the executive experience card pretty aggressively against potential comers such as Marco Rubio, Rand Paul or Paul Ryan. But if he bills himself as the solutions-oriented, popular, reformist, two-term governor in the race, Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush might have something to say about that. Christie may cite bipartisan appeal as his trump card, but that play very well might accentuate a significant hurdle he'd face in a Republican primary -- namely, distrust among elements of the party's base. Many on the Right view Christie with a jaundiced eye; they consider him acceptable as a blue state chief executive, but insufficiently conservative to be the GOP's standard bearer nationally. (Then again, the last five Republican nominees have been George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney). Christie ingratiated himself with New Jerseyans during and after Hurricane Sandy, but many conservatives fumed that he was blowing too many kisses at President Obama in the closing days of a hard-fought presidential campaign. I happen to believe this particular criticism was overblown, but that's a separate discussion. Conservatives' frustration understandably intensified recently when Christie unleashed demagogic tirades against House Republicans for delaying a pork-laden Sandy relief bill.
Aside from the obvious caveat that much can change in six months, let alone three or four years, all of this micro-analysis may ultimately be rendered moot by a dismaying but undeniable emerging trend in American politics: Experience and accomplishments seem to matter less than ever. How candidates make people feel is paramount. Mitt Romney personifies hard work and achievement. He has succeeded in virtually all of his undertakings, excelling in the classroom and the board room, capably captaining several large enterprises, and leading an honorable life while raising a wonderful family. But none of that mattered to 64 million Americans, many of whom sided with a demonstrably lackluster incumbent because they believed he "understands people like me," or whatever. So factual arguments and superior qualifications are being supplanted by an elusive political sweet spot of authenticity, likeability and nebulous good vibes. As the 2016 field slowly begins to take shape, Republican donors, strategists and voters ought to keep this dynamic in mind as they begin to forge allegiances. And with that, I hereby pledge to refrain from further 2016 speculation until the next irresistible new hook arises.
UPDATE - A new Farleigh Dickinson University poll pegs Christie's approval rating at...73 percent. This includes positive reviews from 90 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Democrats.