Chris Christie said Wednesday that he’s ignoring – for now – the fevered speculation about his presidential ambitions following a decisive re-election victory as a Republican in deep-blue New Jersey. But his words and actions suggested otherwise.

“It’s complimentary. It’s flattering and I have no problem with it,” Christie said at a press conference at a school on Wednesday. “But I want to be really clear about this: I have a job to do. I got re-elected to do a job last night, and that’s the job I’m going to do.”…

The governor made clear, though, that he’s not about to go changing his trademark style should he wage a bid for the presidency.

“I’m not here to put on a show,” he added a bit later. “I’m here to win.”

***

President Obama on Wednesday afternoon called newly re-elected New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to congratulate him on his landslide victory.

“Obviously [the president] and the governor have spent a lot of time together … The president was glad to congratulate him on his victory,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday, according to a pool reporter traveling with the president.

***

Last year, Chris Christie was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association and he officially takes over that post in Arizona in 15 days. It’s a position with a high national profile, money to spread around and a bully pulpit.

So, in way, Christie’s power just doubled

The national leadership role will also take Christie around the country many times over to raise money, make speeches and show off his prowess as a world-class schmoozer born and bred on bare-knuckle Jersey politics. He did the same thing last year as RGA vice chairman.

“I think he’s going to be the most popular draw on the campaign trail for 2014,” said Schmidt, a native of North Plainfield. “He’s going to have a great opportunity to build that national fundraising network to run for president, a reason and an excuse to campaign all over the country for all sorts of other candidates other than his own ambition.”

***

Another open question is how pointedly Christie will contrast his style of governance to politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been unabashed in his belief that the government shutdown served a purpose.

Barbour said that instead of comparing themselves to Cruz, he expects governors to contrast themselves to Barack Obama. Still, he added: “But that will be smarter than going out and starting fights you can’t win.”

Others hope Christie will be more blunt.

“Any Republican who considers himself a party leader has an obligation to be singling out Ted Cruz and not just taking the easy way out of blaming House Republicans,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who did not specifically name Christie. “So far I’m the only one that’s doing it.

***

“I was very interested that he had Susana Martinez there in the last days to campaign with him,” [Orrin] Hatch told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “Because that would make a great ticket.”…

“I think that the man really is an exceptionally tough, smart, good conservative who literally appeals across the board, which is what the Republicans need to have,” Hatch said, referring to Christie. “And let’s face it, Susana Martinez has a lot of qualities that would help a lot of people to understand that the Republican Party is a broad base party.”

***

“I understand that everyone is upset because I’ve said some things. But they need to learn that about me. If they are going to hire me to do a job, I’m going to do the job for the people that I’m representing, and they are going to hear it from me,” Christie told CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday.

“I don’t think I need to fence mend, I think people just have to learn who I am,” said Christie.

“He built a profile as somebody who was quick to criticize Republicans. If you remember after Sandy, he criticized Republicans as being the ones that were holding it up,” said CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

“He was so quick to criticize Republicans. And he gained a lot of favor and a lot of love from the mainstream media … and that put him in a difficult position with a lot of base voters,” said Madden.

***

“I wonder whether Democrats are going to really start to regret how much of a pass they gave Christie in this election,” Hunt said. “You didn’t really see the party apparatus crank up for Barbara Buono…They could have dredged up some of what we’re seeing come out, the Romney vet of Chris Christie, all of these problems in his past, but they let all that go.”

“The Reagan Democrats are alive,” Matthews said. “They’re working class, middle class, mostly Catholics—I’m just saying, it’s a fact—ethnic people, people who came two or three generations ago. They tend to be very, very patriotic. And they like reality. They don’t like Al Gores. They don’t like people like [Michael] Dukakis. They want real people with blood in them. People that talk with attitude.”

***

Just one day after Chris Christie’s successful reelection bid, Ron Paul already foresees doom for the New Jersey governor’s 2016 aspirations. The former Texas representative saw Christie another possible candidate from the “mushy middle” similar to the past two Republican presidential nominees who have lost.

“If he wants to go the way of McCain and Romney, I guess he can go ahead and do it,” Paul said on Fox News on Wednesday. “I think it’ll be same old stuff again, wishy-washy stuff — chase [out] all the constitutionalists, limited-government, libertarians.”

***

The big problem for Christie is that these two ostensibly separate concerns—his temperament and his problems with the base—are likely to merge in unpleasant ways. If there is one thing about Christie that does appeal to the Tea Party crowd, it is his demeanor. (I am uncertain that even hardcore right-wingers will enjoy Christie’s personality after being exposed to it day after day for a year, but let’s leave that aside.) They love his disdain for liberals and unions, his “straight talk,” and his seemingly anti-establishment, regular-guy shtick. (Ironically, it’s this anti-establishment shtick that seems to have endeared Christie to the Republican establishment, from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to the Lords of Finance.)

When Christie is inevitably attacked by his competitors on some of the issues Cohn mentions, then expect him to go into full-bore angry guy mode. The GOP primary is thus going to set up a dynamic in which Christie will have to rely on his worst instincts. If you think Mitt Romney was forced into unpalatable general election positions during his primary campaign, just wait until Christie uses his anger to deflect attacks and provides a whole slew of new YouTube clips. The other option is to rebrand himself as a staunch rightwinger, which could do the trick in the primary, but will also hinder his efforts to be a different type of Republican.

***

There are few things an elected official works harder at than pretending to be a “real” person. Christie is comfortable playing himself. It doesn’t feel like he’s reaching for a mental cue card with talking points every time he answer a question. And when he doesn’t want to answer a question, Christie tells you “it’s none of your business.” Lawyer, lobbyist, governor, perhaps, but the perception is that he is as real as real gets in major league politics. Even when you disagree with him, you rarely dislike him. That kind of public currency goes a long way…

Christie is a product of a Northeastern Republican tradition that is expert at running bureaucracy, not standing athwart history, yelling Stop. He’s a politician like everyone else — in some ways, even more true to the vocation than others. Actually, the factors that make someone like Rand Paul and Christie compelling are entirely different. The latter doesn’t spend too much time reflecting on democracy’s role during Jim Crow (as interesting a topic as that might be), he wants to know where the &%#@&?$%# money is for Sandy relief. That’s why Christie probably wouldn’t sound like a very good Senator, though there is the strong possibility that he might make a very good national candidate.

***

There’s a historical precedent: Bill Clinton. He was ostensibly a “New Democrat,” even though he was pro-choice, supported higher taxes, a universal health care system, gun control, and expanded rights for gays in the military. Rather than abandon core elements of the Democratic agenda, Clinton softened the edges on unreformed welfare, crime, middle class taxes, and said abortion should be “rare,” even if it should remain legal.

Today’s “New Republican” might not look very different from Chris Christie. He or she would preserve the core elements of the Republican agenda, but might retreat on a few symbolic but ultimately incidental issues—like immigration reform. He or she would stress pragmatism, the ability to work with both parties, and routinely distinguish him or herself from the party’s extremists. After losing the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, Republicans should be quite familiar with the effectiveness of this tactic…

What should scare Republicans is the possibility that Christie is the only candidate who can pull off his own success. Christie is an exceptional candidate, and it wasn’t even inevitable that Christie would become Christie—it took quite a bit of luck, and even some perverse luck in the form of Hurricane Sandy. It’s unclear whether any other Republican can advance through the primaries while retaining enough credibility to tack back to the center and distinguish themselves from the party in the general election. If not, the compounding effects of demographic change, a sour GOP brand, and a conservative Republican nominee might put the GOP at a real disadvantage. Fortunately for electability-minded Republicans, the last few months have brought deceptively good news.

***

The obvious analog for this Christie triumph is the 1998 Texas reelection victory of George W. Bush. The outcome of that race was never in doubt, but the Karl Rove-led Bush team pushed hard to produce a result that would be interpreted as a national GOP blueprint – something they achieved when Bush crushed Democrat Garry Mauro by 37 points and won 40 percent of the Latino vote and nearly a third of the black vote…

But the party is also much different now than it was 15 years ago. For many in the Republican universe, purity is now just as important – if not more important – than general election success. This is a consequence of the Bush years, which ended with the rise of Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress and the enactment of an agenda that the right regards as an affront to freedom. To explain how this could happen – how Americans could go to the polls and willfully elect a left-of-center government – the right decided to blame Bush. The basic idea: Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” amounted to reckless Big Government, gave conservatism a bad name and led a confused electorate to turn to Obama. It is out of this conviction that the Tea Party was born – both to fight Obama and to fight the Republicans who enabled Bush (and who might enable a future Bush)…

Many people loathe Christie, but plenty appreciate his swagger, especially in the Republican universe. The risk of Christie as a national candidate is that he’ll lose his temper at the wrong time, in the wrong way – an ugly explosion that becomes his identity and sinks his campaign. The flip side, though, is that he’s good at this game. He’s the rare politician who can talk to a room of people who disagree with them and win them over. They warm up to him, they laugh at his jokes, start to like him – then, without even realizing it, they’re working backward in their minds to tell themselves why, come to think of it, it actually wouldn’t be crazy to support him. I’ve seen him do this in rooms of skeptical Democrats. I’ve seen him do this in rooms of skeptical conservatives. And I can absolutely see him doing it in a room of skeptical Iowa Republicans two years from now.

***

Think about the map: To beat a candidate with Christie’s profile one on one, either Paul or Cruz would need to win Florida and then at least part of the industrial Midwest — the places where first McCain in 2008 and then Romney in 2012 successfully fended off the challenges from the right. Does Ted Cruz, whose resume is part Ivy League elite and part Texan evangelical, and whose father probably sets off every non-evangelical alarm bell there is, somehow win enough middle class Catholic Republicans to beat an Irish-Italian former prosecutor in Ohio and Michigan? Does Rand Paul, who veers between showing remarkable political savvy and indulging in not-ready-for-prime-time fumbling, really have what it takes to fundraise, organize, and win in big, not-deep-red states? Especially amid polls showing, as they probably would, that neither of them would fare as well as Christie in a general-election matchup against You Know Wh(illary)o?

Now maybe there’s a dark horse like Scott Walker or Mike Pence who can get oxygen instead and reshuffle the map. Maybe one of the Christie pseudo-scandals turns into a real one and wrecks his bid before it begins. Or maybe Rubio makes a roaring political comeback and fulfills his party-unifying potential. It’s early yet, Christie is hardly a near-lock like the current Democratic frontrunner, and (as she well knows) even near-locks have been known to run and lose.

But still, I’d be more certain of his vulnerability if I had a clearer sense of who might actually beat him.

***

Christie does have a powerful advantage that was in evidence in his New Jersey experience that would help him address this national dilemma, but it is not one he has yet brought forth. Christie has an unusual ability to connect with the common person because of his background and his manner of speech. As such, he is perhaps the only one of the major GOP contenders being bruited about who could conceivably rally mass public opinion behind a coherent center-right economic platform. But such ability does not come from the fighting Christie or the crisis leader, nor is it directly connected to the issues involved in the pension war: It comes straight from the average-Joe part of the Christie persona.

Christie’s New Jersey success ultimately rests on the notion that he represents the aspirations of average New Jerseyites against the elites. Translating that to the national stage would necessarily require him to explain to Republican elites why they must sacrifice to deal with our fiscal woes. Subsidies for business and the upper middle class will have to be cut to simply maintain today’s tax rates. Such translation would also apply to average Americans: Those who can afford to do more themselves will need to do so to avoid the tax hikes that could cripple our economy. Such a formulation would avoid the “many versus the few” trap the Democrats are waiting to deploy. Christie as the tribune for the common man would be defending the common good, asking the many to contribute for themselves.

Such an approach would draw on, but not simply repeat, Christie’s New Jersey experiences. Common Man Christie can be angry at times and soft at times, so long as in each case the emotion is deployed on behalf of the many and not on behalf of the few.

***

The breathless burbling about how Chris Christie’s victory “shows the path forward for the GOP” conveniently ignores his inability to turn New Jersey red for anyone but himself. Before election day, the New Jersey media didn’t see any reason for the Dems to worry about a Christie victory, as they enjoy a 48-32 majority in the Assembly and a 24-16 lead in the state Senate. While these numbers may change, early reports indicate most incumbents will be reelected. The New Jersey media reported that most polls indicate support for Christie won’t help any down-ballot Republicans. In 2009, Christie’s coat-tail effect was negligible too, resulting in only one new Assembly seat for the Republicans.

Like Schwarzenegger, Christie is a useful idiot for the Democrats—a needy, politically correct, ruling-class Republican who is trending liberal on everything from “climate change” to gay marriage to size-of-government issues. Christie loves the liberal limelight—a trait that will only intensify over time. The Democrats know a Trojan Horse when they see one…

The future of the GOP is not Christie but Cruz. Have the Republicans learned nothing from Romney’s loss, McCain’s loss, Dole’s loss? The lesson is simple: do not run moderates; that just hands victory to the Dems from the start. A basic test for any GOP nominee should be: Can this candidate win his own state? In Christie’s case, the question, despite Tuesday’s results, remains open. After all, he wasn’t exactly running against Hillary Clinton. Another test is: Can this candidate reclaim his own legislature for his party? If not, all the enthusiasm is empty. Republican governors in blue states that remain for all intents and purposes blue always end up doing damage to the party, racking up personal victories for themselves while selling out the party’s principles.

***

Via Campus Reform.

***

Via MFP and Mediaite.