Just putting a bow here on all the Christie/CPAC coverage lately until the man himself finally chimes in, which should be soon. Over at the Times, Nate Silver argues that the conservative romance was Christie is ending essentially because it was always based on a lie:
[W]hat seems to have changed is the salience of different issues, as driven by major news events over the past year.
Mr. Christie has long been an advocate of gun-control policies, for example. But that issue has become far more relevant since the shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Mr. Christie has also taken moderate positions on immigration. Immigration was an issue in the 2012 campaign, but it seems to have grown in importance now, after the poor performance of the Republicans with Hispanic voters November, and the push by President Obama and by some Republicans in Congress for immigration legislation…
Contrast this to the political climate in late 2011, when Mr. Christie was winning praise from conservatives for his statements toward teachers’ unions — an issue that was then in the news because of the protests against efforts by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin to curtail benefits for public-sector unions in that state. Mr. Christie also takes relatively conservative views on gay marriage and abortion, social issues that had the stage more to themselves in 2011, but which may have to compete more against immigration and gun control in the next political cycle.
Silver’s conclusion: If there’s anyone out there capable of making a third-party run kinda sorta viable, it’s Christie. Needless to say, I agree. You’ll know he’s thinking about that if he decides to double down on gun control in the next year or two. That’ll antagonize conservatives even further but it’ll also endear him to Bloomberg, who can marshal Wall Street money for him and who could, singlehandedly, fund a pro-Christie Super PAC to level the playing field with the major parties. In fact, his richest supporters are sticking with him, for now:
Ken Langone, the billionaire Home Depot founder and influential Christie donor, and Tom Kean, the former New Jersey governor and longtime Christie mentor, remain bullish on his political future. In interviews with National Review Online, both men say Christie remains a leading contender for the Republican nomination.
“If the governor can expand Medicaid without disrupting his budget and without raising taxes, then I don’t have a problem,” Langone says. “To the critics, I say, ‘give me a break.’ If conservatives are going to criticize him for doing what’s right for his state, then we’re on our way to becoming a minority party.”
Langone says he and several other prominent donors think Christie has the best shot of winning a presidential general election, and they’ll stick with him, even if some conservatives start to rule out the 50-year-old governor.
Still, despite the antagonism with righties, an indie bid would still be harder than winning the Republican nomination. In spite of everything, there may still be a constituency for him inside the GOP:
Note that 36 percent. Not all of them would be instant Christie voters, but then not all of the 62 percent on the other side would be implacably opposed to him either. If conservatives splinter over Rubio, Ryan, Jindal, and Paul, then ~30 percent or so makes a contender. And if the answer to that is that the base would never turn out for him if he won the nomination, well, read this. The base is very, very, very forgiving of apostates when the alternative is another four years of Democratic rule. Plus, there may be some block of Republican voters who are thinking this way:
Christie could do worse than aspire to the role that Clinton played for Democrats in 1992. The young Arkansas governor was perceived as the solution to a problem that had dogged Democrats for 20 years by then. Before the primary that year in New Hampshire, one liberal Democrat after another told me that their hearts belonged to Tom Harkin or Bob Kerrey or Jerry Brown, but they were going to vote for Clinton. They were tired of losing with stereotypical liberals who were easily caricatured as soft on crime and defense, and they saw the Southern moderate as a game-changer.
Some centrists might back him purely for that reason, less because they love the candidate himself than because of the party reorientation he would represent. Because of that, with the possible exception of Rand Paul, he’ll be the most interesting Republican to watch for the next year or two. Does he tack back to the right after his reelection to try to atone with conservatives? Or does he actually inch a bit further to the center by partnering with Bloomy on guns, or “evolving” on gay marriage, or maybe pushing reform on marijuana laws to try to get the attention of younger Republicans? He’s got to pick a brand before other people pick it for him.