Can Chris Christie win?
This is Chris Christie's moment.
The New Jersey governor is being embraced by the media as a real contender. He won the coveted imprimatur of the New Hampshire Union Leader. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg sat down with Christie for a long interview about foreign policy and the Middle East. Christie is beloved in the "Greenroomistan" primary, where TV pundits talk up this or that not-so-socially-conservative candidate's chances to death. Christie is even getting his turn near the top of some polls, placing second behind Donald Trump in one of the latest surveys from New Hampshire. (Though he still lags far behind Trump — 27 percent to 12 percent — and is barely ahead of Marco Rubio's 11 and Ted Cruz's 10.)
Does Christie have staying power? Could he actually win?
It is almost impossible to imagine Christie catching a big wave of support in Iowa. But New Hampshire, Florida, and even South Carolina often give an Establishment-approved Republican the kind of lead he needs to outpace a religious-conservative insurgent. Jeb Bush should have been able to crowd out Christie in the Establishment lane of the primary. He hasn't.
Christie is someone that Republican big-wigs can talk themselves into supporting. He is not a simpering, vain ideologue like Ted Cruz. He doesn't give off a religious vibe that creeps out the most deep-pocketed donors. He'll avoid meandering at length on social issues, and he's far too self-aware to talk about "legitimate rape" or some other insanity. Christie has a personal toughness that seems lacking in an aspirational good-boy candidate Marco Rubio. That quality looks like something that could hold up against attacks from Hillary Clinton — and Donald Trump.
Christie has nothing like the saccharine piety of John Kasich. He does not have the spookily melodious cadence of a megachurch preacher as does Ted Cruz. His bridge-and-tunnel personality is spiky. Irascibility is not necessarily an obstacle to the presidency. It is sometimes loved by the media because it seems more authentic and risky than the usual wide smile. (See McCain, John.) But that personality — which is mostly what Christie is selling — can get you into trouble, too.
Especially early in his time as governor, Christie used his razor mouth to became a favorite creature of the conservative movement. There's no other way to describe how he did this than plainly: Chris Christie yelled at school teachers. And his staff posted the exchanges on YouTube. Sometimes this was done in the spirit of an NBA dunk video: Christie posterizes social studies teacher. Sometimes Christie just talked down to public sector workers in New Jersey as if they were an incontinent dog destroying the rug he just installed. He was humorous, dismissive, bullying, and fully aware that he had the megaphone in his state. New Jersey is one of the highest taxed states in the country. It boasts an exceptional public school system, but one that comes with exceptional expenses. In a brief moment of terror about municipal and state debate, Christie was the man bravely making cuts that the political center and the right desired.
But it's also possible that in another context (one that doesn't include Donald Trump), those old YouTube hits of Christie will look embarrassing and bullying. In one memorable line, he tried to defend taxpayers and children from teachers: "You punch them? I punch you," he said of the powerful union while wagging his finger. Christie can't help but be just as cutting as Donald Trump when it comes to other candidates. On Rubio, Christie recently opined, "There's not a lot of depth there." I guess Christie isn't interested in any position on a ticket but the top one.
There are problems beyond his personality. Christie is not from a swing state like Rubio, Bush, and Kasich. Christie's job approval rating in New Jersey has been sinking into the 30s, so he's not going to deliver the long-entertained long-shot flip of New Jersey into the Republican presidential column. Compared to the rest of its region, New Jersey's recovery from the Bush recession is particularly slow: revenues down, unemployment higher than average. Atlantic City's descent is more Christie's albatross than Donald Trump's, particularly when you consider the closure of the incredibly unneeded and state-subsidized Revel casino and hotel. Trump sold his casinos and got out of town with money. Christie decided to save the unfinished casino, and couldn't keep it alive more than two years with all the tax incentives in the world.
If the past few election cycles have taught us anything about the Republican primary, it is to be patient. We should be skeptical of political deaths, like John McCain's in 2007, or political surges, like Newt Gingrich's in 2012. But Christie still looks like a longshot to me. His personality is likely to wear on New Hampshirites over time, as did Rudy Guliani's. His record as governor does not automatically recommend him.
Christie comes off as the character actor in the 2016 race. All personality, but no purpose in the larger plot. Republicans will enjoy watching him chew some scenery. They won't cast him in the lead role.