Chris Christie: Is 2012 his one best shot at the White House?

Chris Christie would be a late entrant into the GOP presidential field if he decides to run, and that could be a problem. But there are other reasons for Christie to think it's now or never.

Jae C. Hong/AP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Perspectives on Leadership Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., late last month.

There are lots of reasons why Chris Christie shouldn’t run for president. It’s quite late to enter the race, for one thing. He’s never faced the blowtorch media scrutiny that White House hopefuls experience, for another.

But if the New Jersey governor has ever sat at his desk, late at night, and dreamed that one day he’d be sitting in the Oval Office, 2012 may be his one best chance to grasp that brass hula hoop.

Why? The most obvious reason is that Republicans may not face as favorable a situation in a presidential election cycle as this one for years, if not decades to come. The nation continues to stagger out of one of its worst recessions of all time, and voters remain concerned about the nation’s direction and the security of their own economic future. That’s a toxic situation for a White House incumbent, and it shows in President Obama’s dismal polls.

If not Governor Christie, some other GOP candidate might benefit from this electoral landscape and oust Obama after one term. If that happens, Christie will drop down the Republican Party’s depth chart behind the new President Romney/Perry/Paul and whomever they pick as vice president. Factor in a reelection bid, and at best Christie is suddenly looking at 2020 as his next opportunity, or even 2024. In political terms that’s so distant it might as well be another era.

If Obama wins this fall, 2016 would remain an option for Christie, of course. But by then he might have to compete with an array of attractive Republican fresh faces. As Gerald Seib points out in The Wall Street Journal, the party’s “stars-in-the-making” include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Plus, by 2016 Christie will have served at least one full term as New Jersey’s chief executive. More experience is a good thing in the abstract, but it will also mean that he’ll have more of a record for opponents to criticize. Currently, he is something of a blank slate, having served only a bit more than a year in the office.

As to how this can work, just look at Gov. Rick Perry’s current problems – he’s taking hits from the right for his actions in Texas to allow the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition, and for his order that preteen Texas girls be vaccinated against a sexually-transmitted disease. Governor Perry can ride a horse and carries a gun when he’s jogging. If he can be hit from the right, what’s going to happen to a guy from New Jersey? Christie is running a blue state, and of necessity he’s going to have to do things that dedicated conservatives won’t like. As far as his presidential hopes are concerned, the fewer such marks of moderation he accumulates, the better.

“After a few more years as governor of New Jersey, Christie will be old news with a lot more baggage. You gotta go when you’re hot. Ask Barack Obama,” writes Republican media strategist Mark McKinnon in a Daily Beast column that argues 2012 is Christie’s best chance.

Yes, the Iowa caucuses are only 100 days away. The New Hampshire primaries are shortly thereafter. Time’s a’wasting if Christie is going to run.

But the good news for a possible Christie campaign is that both those states remain in flux, writes Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

“Republican operatives and activists in the critical early states of Iowa and New Hampshire say the field in each state remain remarkably wide, handing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a golden opportunity of he decides to pursue the GOP presidential nomination,” according to Cillizza.

Of course, Christie has long said he is not ready to run and doesn’t want to, and entreaties from such GOP luminaries as Henry Kissinger and Nancy Reagan may not change that. We’re likely to get a definitive answer to questions about his plans within days – and if he declines we can then get back to speculating about what Sarah Palin is going to do.

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