Saturday, November 03, 2012

Chris Christie: The running mate who wasn't

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Sorry, Chris, you're a bit too loud, and a bit too obnoxious, and a bit too much of a loose cannon, and not enough of an ideologue to placate hardcore conservatives...


Politico is reporting today that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was Romney's top choice to be his running mate. This according to "campaign insiders":

Romney switched from Christie to Ryan in a span of about two weeks, according to a detailed inside account provided to POLITICO.

Romney was so close to picking Christie that some top advisers at the campaign's Boston headquarters believed the governor had been offered the job. The campaign made tentative plans to announce a pick in late July, just before Romney headed off on his overseas trip, starting with a stop at the London Olympics.

"Mitt liked him because he saw him as a street fighter," a Romney official said. "It's the kind of political mentality that Romney doesn't have, but admires. He wanted someone who could play the Chicago game [like Obama headquarters] on its own terms."

In fact, Christie was never the final choice. Romney hit "pause" on the possibility shortly before his trip to the Olympics. Then he settled on Ryan the day after returning. Romney formally offered him the job within a week, leaving Christie hanging until shortly before the official announcement a week later.

This isn't surprising at all. Richard and I both thought a) it would be Christie, and b) that Christie was the best pick for Romney (from Romney's perspective -- we obviously would have preferred it if he'd gone with, say, Donald Trump). Consider the title of a post Richard wrote back in June:

"'Husky and Starch': The best GOP ticket and Obama's worst nightmare"

Here was the thinking:

In a sense, it would be both a game changer and a safe call.

We reasoned that Romney should make the announcement the usual time, about a week before the convention. By then the polls will have been so close for so long that conservatives everywhere will be salivating at the thought of beating Obama, so they won't make trouble about the fact that Christie is another Northeastern governor who isn't perfect from a radical right-wing perspective. The base will stay in line and swing voters, particularly white middle-aged guys, will love the choice.

In many ways, Christie is everything Romney is not. He comes across as genuine, a natural performer. He's combative as hell and would be able to do what Romney will never be able to do: act tough. Conservatives want that more than anything.

I'm no great fan of Christie myself, but I do think he would be a formidable running mate and would make things close.


And then the title of a post I wrote in August, just before the pick was announced:

"Romney Veepstakes 2012: Why he will, or at least should, pick Chris Christie as his running mate"

My reasoning:
 
Yes, he's been out of the national spotlight recently, but that just means his re-emergence would be all the more dramatic. (And you know this whole Veepstakes thing is calculated for effect.) And he and Romney genuinely seem to like each other. They're very different, but they seem to have some sort of yin and yang thing going, Romney the privileged rich douchebag, Christie the aggressive, fast-talking bully who does the douchebag's dirty work.

Christie isn't necessarily a right-wing ideologue of the kind desired by conservatives, but he's a fighter who would take the fight directly to President Obama. Conservatives would love that. It would fulfill, at least during the heat of the campaign, their wild fantasies about this anti-American foreign interloper being taken down by force, being given the drubbing/lynching he deserves.

There wouldn't any yawn.

Picture Romney walking out on stage with Christie. Think of Christie's forceful personality. Think of his aggressive speech. Think of Romney standing there like a doofus with an ear-to-ear grin. Think of Republicans everywhere wetting themselves.

Makes perfect sense, no?

It did. As our contributor tmcbpatriot also wrote at the time: "I'm going with Christie still. He was the golden boy early on. Everybody wanted him and now there is less than three months to vet him publicly. He is crass and has no respect for anyone, much less his own body. Republicans love that sort of thing and he balances out Romney's elite factor with his New Jersey trash talk and attitude. Plus, Christie appeals to the moron independents. Ryan is too extreme for them. Honestly, nobody can reach the independents except Christie."

So why wasn't it Christie? Early reports said it was because he refused to step down as governor (and because, in a related matter, this would have blocked large donations from the financial sector to the Romney campaign).

But now we're getting different reasons. From the Politico piece:

--"Some aides around Romney began to sour on Christie when he was late to a couple of events where they were appearing together... The tardiness rankled the by-the-book folks around Romney."

-- "Some Romney loyalists thought he was too much about himself."

-- "Advisers also fretted about the raw emotion that makes Christie so popular on TV and on the trail, fearing it might be a liability in the West Wing."

Apparently "Romney was willing to overlook those reservations," but then "the intense back-and-forth suddenly halted." And then Paul Ryan was picked.

It may well be that Christie said no to stepping down in Trenton, and that would make sense. He must have reasoned that Romney was facing an uphill battle and that victory was a longshot. And Christie is nothing if not devoted to New Jersey. Why give up the top job there to be Romney's sidekick in what could be a losing effort? Even with his sights set on running himself down the road, perhaps in 2016 should Romney lose, what good would it be to him to be out of office for any such run?

As for these new reasons, they seem like complete bullshit to me, though it's certainly true that Christie isn't the sort of person you can easily picture as a #2.

No, I suspect the real reason is that Romney needed to win over conservatives who by that point in the campaign were publicly expressing some serious misgivings about his credentials and demanding that he put a hardcore conservative on the ticket. Names like Marco Rubio were being pushed, but it was Ryan who was the right's dream pick. Here's more from my post from August:

"Romney Faces Pressure From Right to Put Ryan on Ticket," says the Times.

"Why not Paul Ryan?" asks the Journal...
 
Ezra Klein asks why conservatives want Ryan. And looks at why Romney may want him as well -- to take a necessary risk, to run on "big ideas," to pander to the right (as usual), and "to diffuse the blame if he loses.
 
The fact is, with criticism and doubt coming from the Journal and National Review and The Weekly Standard and all throughout the conservative ranks of the Republican Party, Romney needed to give them what they wanted so that they'd be fully behind him the rest of the way. And Christie, with his pragmatism and iconoclasm, just didn't fit the bill. Conservatives like Bill Kristol wanted an ideologue, one of their own kind -- and that meant Paul Ryan above all others.
 
In other words, at perhaps the most critical moment of the campaign (with the possible exception of the first debate), Romney caved in to the right and embraced the extremist ideology that has come to define the conservative movement and pretty much the entirety of the congressional wing of the GOP. Of course he pivoted away from that extremism, at least rhetorically, at that first debate and has since tried to offer himself as the "Moderate Mitt" of old, but that may turn out to have been too little far too late.
 
Consider how the whole shape of the campaign might have been different had he gone with Christie in August and campaigned from then on as an independent-friendly pragmatist. Would he really have lost the right? Hardly. They would have protested a bit, but they would have embraced Christie eventually, not least because what so many conservatives like about the governor is his bullying pugnacity, which would have been on display right away, but also because an earlier shift to the center, with Christie on board, might have meant a rise in the polls long before the first debate -- and conservatives, no doubt, would have put aside their reservations to back such apparent success.
 
Instead it was Ryan, who has been an embarrassment on the campaign trail, rallying the right but also looking utterly unprepared for national office -- consider his deer-in-headlights performance in the VP debate against Biden, as well as his continual refusal to answer questions about his budget plan. I just can't see Christie doing any worse, and indeed I suspect that Christie would have been much better in the debate, showing an understanding of the issues and not just reading his talking points. In addition, where Ryan has been a drag on Romney, as well as a reminder that the Republican Party is indeed an extremist right-wing party, Christie would have allowed Romney more credibly to swing to the center to appeal to independents and undecideds in swing states. Romney and Christie could have campaigned together in earnest, offering a credible alternative to voters, particularly during these final days in Ohio, Florida, and other key states. Instead, Ryan has been a drag on Romney, pulling him back to the right whether he likes it or not.
 
But back to the Politico report: why now? Hard to say.
 
Obviously, Hurricane Sandy would have left its mark regardless. And it would have been interesting to see how Christie as Romney's running mate would have dealt with the situation back in New Jersey, assuming he hadn't resigned. Would he have left the campaign trail to tend to more pressing relief and recovery matters? Would he have embraced President Obama the way he has in the storm's aftermath?
 
Regardless, it does seem as if some in the Romney campaign, anticipating a loss on Tuesday, are already playing the blame game and looking ahead. There will be a lot of blame to go around should Romney lose, and conservatives will no doubt blame Romney for being insuffiently conservative, and for being the wrong nominee and a bad candidate, but perhaps some on the inside are hoping to pin some of the blame on Ryan personally, or on others on the inside for pushing Ryan ahead of Christie, suggesting that if it had been Christie, who is rather popular at the moment, all along, Romney would be on his way to victory. (Or perhaps BooMan's right that "the Romney folks wanted a Politico piece that explained why Gov. Christie wasn't chosen as Romney's running mate" but ended up with a piece that "makes Paul Ryan sound like a reluctant choice.")
 
It's all just speculation, but it does seem to me that Romney would be in much better shape today had he gone with Christie.
 
"Husky and Starch": The best GOP ticket and Obama's worst nightmare -- it was just not to be.

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