The rumor has been floating for a while that our New Jersey Governor Christie is one of the best candidates the Republican Party could field in the upcoming 2016 Presidential race. That of course does not mean that they will; but the race is going to be of interest in New Jersey whether Christie ever declares himself a candidate or not. So here's to considering the race. We'll be looking at this well into 2016.
Readers might also want to see New Jersey 2013 Gubernatorial Election.
The next Presidential Election looms just over two years away, and a week cannot pass without political reporters (like me) speculating concerning who is going to be in the race. Part of that is because politicians themselves fuel such speculation by forming committees to investigate the possibility of running; another part is the fact that Obama is now a "lame duck", in his sixth year in the office, and all two-term Presidents suffer falling popularity in year six even if they don't say and do things that upset a significant portion of the electorate. It also touches us here in New Jersey, because one of the names at the top of the speculation list is our governor, Chris Christie.
It's not news. Barbara Buono, who ran against him last year (remember her?) tried to make an issue of it, claiming that if re-elected for governor Christie would not serve his full term, leaving his Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno (pictured, with Christie) at the helm. He said then that he did not know what would happen in the four years of the gubernatorial term, that he had never run for President but could not say he never would. Polls at the time concluded that he had the best chance of all known Republicans to beat Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, should she decide to run, and the fact that as head of the national Republican Governor's Association and one of the most popular moderates in the party he has been making public appearances nationwide in support of other candidates tends to fuel speculation that he is attempting to build a better base.
Some people--not all of them Democrats--will argue that a Christie candidacy would mean that he abandoned his responsibilities in the state, as Buono predicted. It was barely relevant then, and is completely irrelevant now. Kim Guadagno would undoubtedly do well as governor, and in a state in which incumbency is the primary qualification for election to office Christie could do the Republican party a service by letting his lieutenant take the reins and make a name for herself before the 2017 race. We know little about her, but odds are good she is a capable administrator whose abilities to lead the state were considered when she was nominated. At least half of what we vote for in an executive is policy. There is no legitimate complaint if our governor leaves the state in the care of his lieutenant and becomes our President, or even attempts to do so.
Besides, there are probably very few readers out there who do not themselves want a promotion, and in the political world a promotion means being elected to a higher office. Christie has to this point done nothing that is specifically seeking the nomination, but if the party decides that it needs him, even in the second seat, it seems likely that he would do what any of us would do, and say yes. He can be as altruistic about it as the rest of us--you're pleased to be promoted from clerk to assistant manager because you believe you can contribute something to making it a better workplace in many ways, but that does not mean you aren't also pleased to get the raise and authority that comes with the job. Would you refuse the offer?
It remains to be seen whether Christie will enter the primary race, and there are those who believe he could win the national but cannot win the nomination (as against the host of candidates who can win the nomination but not the national). Yet if he pulls out of the present slump, the party might just pressure him into running.
Ever since the Nixon debacle, journalists have appended the third syllable of the name of the prominent hotel to other words to denote a political scandal. Thus we have Bridgegate, the upset created when it came to light that members of the Christie administration intentionally closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge to snarl traffic in Fort Lee, because its Democratic mayor would not endorse Republican Christie for a second term as Governor. Christie had denied that there had been any political motive behind the lane closings, and now the big question is whether he actually did not know his appointees were doing this, or whether he is covering up his involvement.
Of course, the lesson of Watergate is do not become involved in a coverup, because the press will find the truth; and we need only go back as far as Gary Hart to learn that lesson. Christie's immediate disavowal of any involvement by his administration comes across as that of someone who so trusts his people that he finds the idea ridiculous; had he any inkling it might be so, or even that it might appear so, the politically prudent response would have been to say that these were indeed serious charges and that he would immediately open an investigation into them. We can accuse him of trust misplaced, but then, we all have to trust someone or we revert to primitivism, hunting and preparing our own food.
The other question, though, is how this impacts his election prospects. Some of that depends on how the matter unfolds over the coming weeks, and whether the now independent investigation is satisfied that he was not involved, did not approve or have knowledge before the fact. Of course, if he expressed frustration or disappointment at some point (like asking whether no one "will rid me of this turbulent priest") it might be that someone took him seriously, and that investigators cannot discount the possibility that they were correct in taking it so. It will require more than merely plausible deniability to eliminate the issue entirely; and we can be fairly certain that his Republican rivals for the nomination will attempt to keep the issue alive as long as it favors them to do so, and if they manage to damage his credibility sufficiently to cost him the presidency, they will undoubtedly say that in retrospect it is obvious he was the wrong candidate. After all, politicians are a breed that eats their wounded.
On the other hand, if he comes out of this clean he can certainly rebuild his popularity; he still holds majority favorable ratings in this state early in his second term despite the problem. In the CPAC straw poll for Republican Presidential nominee, he listed fourth (behind strong leader Rand Paul at 31%, Ted Cruz at 11%, and Ben Carson at 9%) with 8% of the strongly conservative group's vote. Teapot Dome this is not, and this far in advance of the election it will become one of those problems of the past before we know it. After all, the plagiarism scandal that knocked Delaware Senator Joe Biden out of the Presidential primary race in 1987 apparently did not disqualify him from becoming Vice President in 2008 (although some will argue that he is part of an administration that values effective lying). There are enough scandals to touch everyone in politics right now, and we can be pretty sure that when the mudslinging starts in earnest, Christie will be far from the dirtiest participant in the fight.