Chris Christie is Really & Finally Not Running for President

Chris Christie, seen by some Republicans as the last best hope in a weak field of candidates, is set to announce that he will not run for President at 1 pm. With so many people begging him to do it, why didn’t he take the plunge?

Senior advisors confirmed to the New York Times at around 11 am that New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, will stay out of the race for the Republican Party’s nomination.

Nothing left to do but shrug: time runs out on Chris Christie.

Why is he not running, after the weeping and begging from conservative luminaries like Bill Kristol, Nancy Reagan, and even Henry Kissinger? As Shakespeare’s dithering Richard II said after getting unceremoniously kicked off the throne for being ineffective, “I wasted time, and now time doth waste me.”

Initially, Christie was all set to run in 2016, like Utah’s Jon Huntsman. Unlike Jon Huntsman, Christie had beaten Obama early by winning the New Jersey governorship even after the President went all-in on behalf of the incumbent, Jon Corzine. He could stay in the national spotlight, take his time and let the until-recently-popular Obama serve two terms, then show up as someone with both conservative and moderate bona fides to roll to an easy 2017 innauguration.

But as this year went on, two things happened: (a) the Republican field remained “weak” (at least in the eyes of its pundits) and (b) the President’s popularity dropped like a stone. His attempts at compromise just made him look weak in dealing with the intransigent opposition, costing him the support of independents and despairing liberals. Huntsman saw this coming and got in, but the Republican Party had moved far to his right by the time he returned from his post as Ambassador to China, and he was relegated to third-tier candidate status.

Suddenly, it looked like a balanced Republican candidate could win, if he or she could thread the needle between the party’s furious base that does things like boo gay soldiers or cheer people being executed or vow not to vote for any tax increase even if offset at a 1:10 ratio with budget cuts and the rest of the country which votes in general elections and thinks thinks those things are not so great.

For a lot of talkative Republicans (Kristol et al.), Mitt Romney couldn’t be that person. He had proposed the health care system that the new national health care plan is based on, for one thing. He’d also said nice things about abortion and gay rights while in Massachusetts politics. In short, his current wonk-conservative persona was a Nixonian lie to them. Never mind that Christie had been a fairly moderate Attorney General–he had beaten the Obama machine before, and didn’t have quite as many blue-state skeletons in his closet.

But Christie was still justifiably nervous, and vehemently denied that he was running all summer. What finally changed to cause this sudden increase in pundit speculation? Well, it takes a lot of money to run for President, especially if you need to do it quick, and those backers finally convinced him that they had the money.

Conservative money-men like Charles Koch basically offered to throw cash at both Christie’s campaign and whatever unlimited-cash “unaffiliated Super PACs” he would need to get in the race. They could set them up right away. He wouldn’t even have to go out and do too much glad-handing, they promised. He could focus on campaigning, translating the media buzz into momentum that would power him through Iowa in February.

But then events intervened. Florida moved its primary to January 31, in violation of Republican Party rules, because they thought they were more important than the boring small states they’d otherwise get lumped in with on Super Tuesday. This made the states who were set to go first in February rather upset, and so now they, also in violation of the rules, will hold their primaries earlier in January. Late-bloomers like Christie had just lost a month.

To put it another way: Iowa will likely hold its caucuses around 90 days from now. There are 99 counties in Iowa. It’s unlikely that any politician could rent and staff 99 offices in 90 days, let alone do the serious work needed in those counties to get people to the ~1700 official prescinct caucuses on caucus day.

And so now that Christie had the opportunity, and the money, he no longer had the time to build an actual campaign organization that could get out the vote for the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. He simply waited too long.

For better or worse (and in President Obama’s eyes, looking at the current field, it’s definitely “better”), the Republican field is settled. 2012 is going to look suspiciously like 2004, in which a marginally unpopular president and his polarizing policies that he had some difficulty explaining will face an unexciting candidate drawn from a weak field after the true believers of the party self-destructed during the primaries.

Remember 2004? It wasn’t a fun campaign. Get ready for a long slog, and a lot of hand-wringing about Christie counter-factuals.

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Photo credit: Bob Jagendorf.

Chas Carey was born between Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns and raised in a loving New England Republican household that took a brief California detour.  He’s written about politics off and on ...read more

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