“If you are to win the Republican nomination and then remain viable, you must do three things. First, get a top notch tech team up and running, the sooner the better. Second, build bridges to Southern Republicans, who have yet to cotton to you. Third, lessen your tropism toward Wall Street.”
Those were the words of Lloyd Green, writing for The Daily Beast, advising New Jersey governor Chris Christie on his potential campaign for the presidency in 2016. Christie’s recent re-election, which could be described as no less than a triumph, has prompted many pundits to speculate about his prospects in 2016. However, the governor’s path to the White House, or even the Republican nomination, is unsure. Still, Christie has a chance, and the rest of this article will be spent discussing that chance.
First, Christie needs to navigate the GOP primaries without moving too far to the right. Yes, he has many conservatives whose support he needs to win the nomination; at the same time, Christie needs moderates to win the actual election. Jonathan Chalt, writing for New York Magazine, argued that “shepherding Christie through a competitive Republican primary will be vastly more difficult than anyone seems to be figuring at the moment.”
Nearly every other potential candidate in the GOP is to Christie’s right. Additionally, many of those conservatives have a negative view of the New Jersey governor. According to a Quinnipiac poll from November 6-13, 26% of conservatives do not think that Chris Christie would make a good president. A number like that should alarm Christie, especially given the fate of the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, who was hurt by a lack of enthusiasm from the conservative base. Chris Christie should work hard to boost his credentials within the GOP, or else he will have little chance at winning the nomination.
At the same time, Christie needs to preserve his more moderate, “outsider” image. David Francis of The Fiscal Times best expressed the growing divide in the GOP when he wrote the following:
“The government shutdown exposed the rift between the far right and moderate Republicans. Now, [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker and Christie have exposed the rift between Republicans at the state level and the GOP in Washington. [Walker] said Congressional Republicans’ refusal to compromise is a ‘real problem’.”
Chris Christie, being a governor, possesses an advantage which his potential rivals do not. Republican senators like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have too much of an “insider” image, because the American public’s experience with them has been primarily through TV interviews and speeches from Congress. With one hand, Christie can label his Republican opponents as Washington insiders, and this may undermine their conservative credentials. With the other hand, the governor can also emphasize his own “outsider” status in the general election, should he win the nomination.
When it comes to the general election, Chris Christie is certainly well-positioned. According to the Quinnipiac poll mentioned earlier, Christie would win 43% of the vote in a match-up against Hillary Clinton, who would win 42%. Among independents, he out-polls Clinton by an even larger margin. But, in the general election, Christie still has vulnerabilities, some of which could prove fatal.
Comparing Chris Christie to Rudy Giuliani, Isaac Chotiner of The New Republic wrote this:
“Both have tight inner circles, and Christie has a reputation for secrecy. (Christie presiding over the NSA is not a heartwarming picture). Neither one has much, if any direct experience with actual foreign policy…”
The governor’s lack of foreign policy credentials could be a serious problem, especially of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. Some of Christie’s positions on national security issues may also make it difficult for libertarians in the Republican Party to support him enthusiastically.
Chris Christie is anything but the presumptive GOP nominee. Even so, he needs to avoid being forced too far to the right. Christie has the electability of a Mitt Romney, but he also has an authenticity about him. Many of the most conservative voters may have to hold their noses when voting for him, but Christie’s candidacy could be a source of excitement for moderates. In the end, because of Christie’s brash personality and lack of foreign policy experience, nominating him may be a risk. But a risk that could pay off.