Chris Christie’s not running. On Tuesday, the New Jersey governor finally slammed the door on a potential presidential bid. So Wednesday’s question is this: How happy was Mitt Romney when he woke up this morning?
It’s possible his mood was darkened by the Detroit Tigers' playoff loss to the Yankees on Tuesday. Michigan was his boyhood home, after all, and once established, sports loyalties are hard to shake. Or as a former Massachusetts governor, he might still be troubled by the gruesome way the Boston Red Sox' season ended.
But for him, those would be minor concerns. We’re thinking that Mr. Romney saw nothing but blue skies and clear sailing when he looked out the window while drinking his wake-up hot beverage. The fact is that Governor Christie’s decision to forgo a challenge is great news for the Romney campaign.
That’s because the GOP establishment, with all the money and endorsements at its command, now has little place to turn but to him. Candidate Star Search has ended.
“There’s no alternative for the conservatives who think Romney isn’t one of them, or for those who might like Romney but want a little more pep in their candidate,” writes John Dickerson on Slate.
Sure, Rick Perry is still out there. He raised a horse load of money in the most recent fundraising quarter – a hefty $17 million. He’s got presence and remains in the top tier in recent polls.
But Governor Perry’s electability is in serious question following fumbling debate performances. A new ABC News/Washington Post survey shows he’s lost half his support over the past month. Above all, the Republican leadership does not want to fumble a chance to oust a relatively unpopular Democratic incumbent.
Herman Cain? He’s yet to prove that he’s got staying power, and his lack of experience would be a big negative in a general election. Jon Huntsman? He’s generated little enthusiasm among the GOP rank and file. Besides, the man’s too thin to be president: He must spend hours daily on exercise.
Many Republicans remain suspicious of Romney, given his reputation as someone with changeable positions.
“[T]he problem with Mr. Romney’s campaign is not that he is insufficiently conservative – but rather that conservative Republicans do not trust him and are not sure where he ultimately stands,” wrote Nate Silver, New York Times polling analyst, in a recent piece analyzing the electoral effect that a Christie candidacy might produce.
If Christie had thrown bluster into the ring, he’d have complicated Romney’s path to the nomination, Mr. Silver concluded, by splitting the moderate GOP vote. The New Jersey governor posed less of a threat to the more conservative Perry.
But suspicions aside, those Republicans who pushed to expand the circle of candidates may now be rallying around their once-and-apparently-again front-runner.
According to Romney supporters, about 20 other big fundraisers in recent days have decided to join up with the forces of the ex-Massachusetts governor.
If there’s a cloud on Romney’s horizon today, maybe it is that his support in the polls just hasn’t reached above a quarter of GOP voters, whatever the dates or circumstance. Unless that rises by the time real voting starts next year, he will remain vulnerable to an anybody-but-Mitt movement.