Like a heroin addict who needs his next needle, the national media have once again whipped themselves up into a frenzy about a noncandidate. This time, it’s Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey.
Christie, we are being told, is listening to pleas to enter the presidential race from average voters, uncommitted GOP fundraisers and Republican movers and shakers — all of whom have doubts about Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the two current frontrunners for their party’s nomination.
Some Republicans certainly want Christie to reverse his initial decision to sit out the 2012 race and instead enter the Republican contest, but many of them know little about the Garden State’s governor.
Since they don’t know much about him other than that he “tells it as it is,” they are projecting the qualities they want in a president — from personality and style to issue positions — on Christie. Not surprisingly, they like what they see — or what they now imagine they see.
Successful politicians often benefit from projection, of course, as then-Sen. Barack Obama did in 2008. While he had a thin record, Obama represented change and hope for a new America. Liberals could see in him what they wanted, as could moderates and those who hoped the country could move past its political polarization.
But the New Jersey Republican will have a hard time being all things to all people if he decides to enter the presidential contest. He’ll be forced again and again to articulate positions and paint himself into a corner on issues, inevitably turning off some Republicans who had created an image of the man that never fit with the reality.
I have no idea whether Christie, who repeatedly has said that he will not run, will enter the GOP race shortly. But I’m pretty certain that candidate Christie would be in for a much rougher time from the media and his fellow Republicans than non-candidate Christie has had.
As the New York Times’ Michael Shear noted, the governor is “a jumble of political contradictions. He’s a conservative with some liberal views, a New Jersey politician who can bully but also frequently talks about compromise, and an obviously reluctant candidate who clearly hears the call of the national stage.”
Those contradictions will give Christie’s critics — and, yes, there will be plenty of critics if he enters the race — uncountable opportunities to exploit those contradictions, forcing the governor on the defensive, where he might stumble, giving his opponents even more opportunities to attack him.
On gun control, immigration and global warming, presidential candidate Chris Christie would have dramatically more trouble in the Republican presidential race than he has had in the Garden State. His entire personal and professional record would come under much more intense scrutiny than it has so far.