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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Temptation of Chris Christie

The temptation for New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie to run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination has never been stronger. Almost as strong as setting a few high plates of hamburgers, fettucini, cream puffs...ah, you get the picture.

This temptation, just like the edible variety, may give Christie a case of heartburn. And heartache. Here's why.

First, Christie may be like a lot of middle-aged women in nightclubs who (think they) look good when the liquor is strong and the lights are dim. But throw the lady under a shower, clean off the pounds of makeup, foundation and mascara, and you'll see that what you see, just ain't gonna be what you're gonna get.

(Somewhere I may owe Christie -- and plenty of women -- an apology for that analogy. But he should understand. We are both Mets fans. Chris, I will give you a whole bunch of running sessions for free, so you can get in shape for your real run. You only have to keep up with me.)

Under closer inspection, there can be no assurance that Christie can be the Republicans' darling nirvana, ready to energize and unify moderates and conservatives, Establishment patricians and Tea Party grassroots. (He could be, of course, but this likely requires others to implode.). But I think that no one on the planet right now would qualify as The One, ready and able to unify all segments of the Republican base while simultaneously appealing to enough independent and Democratic voters to reach 270 electoral votes.

Should Christie run, and not win the nomination, he may damage both his "brand" and his re-election standing back in Jersey. This risk grows if he runs, fails to win, and then Obama (or the Democratic replacement) wins it all.

On account of these risks, the politically-pragmatic Christie likely will wait as long as possible for a crescendo of support, and then jump in only when the nomination is all but handed to him on a silver platter.

This can happen, but first Republican voters and the establishment must accept that there will be no unifying consensus choice. The alternative and currently increasingly-unavoidable outcome is a potentially bruising primary.

There is precedent for success, though, by somewhat polarizing candidates who run the primary gauntlet. In 1980, there was a seven-man field including such party stalwarts as Senator Howard Baker and conservative darlings like Senator Philip Crane. The top two candidates and final two left standing brutalized each other, and then became running mates: Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Most Republicans now consider Reagan the Next Man Most Likely To Be Put on Mount Rushmore.

So who's afraid of a primary?

Eric Dixon

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