Alternate headline: “Second look at Chris Christie?”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gets all the love as the current GOP front-runner for 2016 (to the extent there can even be a front runner three years out.) But there is growing chatter in elite New York financial circles that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is giving more serious consideration to getting in the race, especially if it appears at any point that Christie is not drawing big national appeal beyond the northeast. Several plugged in GOP sources said Bush has moved from almost certainly staying out to a 30 percent chance of getting in. The “70/30” odds pop up in so many conversations they almost seem like circulated talking points.

“I think he could run,” said one senior Republican who now works in the financial industry. “The environment is shaping up well for him. Republicans want someone who is competent and who can win and that’s Jeb.” Of course it could also be Christie. Some of the chatter ratcheted up because Bush was in NYC on Tuesday and spoke at the SIFMA conference and took some hard shots at President Obama for taking “victory dances” after fiscal fights and not building relationships with Republicans that could help on tax reform, immigration and other issues. Bush also slammed Obamacare saying it would collapse of its own weight and the GOP should be “ready with an alternative.”

I take it this is just Bushworld’s way of warning Republican millionaires not to get too caught up in Christiemania before Jeb has decided definitively that he’s not running. Needless to say, if they both jumped in, it’d be a knife fight between them for the establishment vote in the same way that Paul and Cruz will be fighting for the tea-party vote. What exactly is the threshold of “big national appeal,” though, that Christie would need to meet in order to convince Jeb that he can play everywhere? Or better yet, when would he have to meet it? If a poll comes out next month showing Christie’s approval sky high in the northeast but only moderately favorable elsewhere, is that the smoking gun? Is it a smoking gun if, after he takes over the RGA, he goes down to South Carolina to campaign for Lindsey Graham and Graham gets crushed anyway? Or are Jeb’s pals imagining a much later scenario, after the primary campaign has begun in 2015? Imagine it’s June of that year and Christie trails badly in evangelical-heavy Iowa. Is that’s Jeb’s cue to proclaim CC another Giuliani who’ll crumble before the tea-party onslaught, with the Bush brand (shudder) the only thing standing between moderate Republicans and the Cruzpocalypse?

If that’s what he’s thinking, he’d better think again. I think many righties (but not all) could very grudgingly tolerate Jeb being nominated if he got in reasonably early, paid his dues by enduring a tough campaign, and then presented himself as the only man with enough name recognition to give Hillary a serious run in the general. If he jumps in late as some alleged party savior, though, it’ll be a disaster. The perception, rightly, would be that the establishment’s trying to foist someone from the GOP’s royal family on the Republican elecorate at the eleventh hour, almost as a sort of coup. I think you’d see many “somewhat conservative” voters resist that, either by rallying to Christie or to the tea-party champion as an alternative. Doesn’t mean Jeb would or could be stopped, but it’d inspire a lot of bad feelings. The way to do this if it’s going to be done is to be forthright. Frankly, it wouldn’t be all bad for Christie if Jeb tried it: He’d lose some big money he was counting on but he’d also gain a chance to present himself as the more conservative of the two centrist options. And it would highlight his appeal as a nontraditional politician. If you recoil at the idea of reinstalling the Bush dynasty on the throne, what better way to send that message if you’re a non-tea-partier than by backing the blue-collar guy from Jersey?

Speaking of dethroning dynasties, dude:

cc

I almost didn’t post that data just because it’s so, so, so obviously a gauge of name recognition, not any reasoned consideration of the two candidates. Christie’s gotten glowing media coverage over the past week due to his Jersey landslide and he was well liked by national media before that because of his chumminess with Obama after Sandy. Here’s his reward. He does better head to head against Hillary than either Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or Paul Ryan — although, interestingly, all four of them have gained a few points against her in hypothetical match-ups since last month. I think that’s a function of Hillary’s bipartisan popularity dimming a bit as she transitions from her image as secretary of state to likely Democratic nominee, but maybe the ObamaCare disaster and/or a post-shutdown rebound for Republicans is feeding into it a tiny bit too.

This data set is interesting, though:

goodprez

Quinnipiac asked that same question about Hillary, Paul, Cruz, Ryan, and Joe Biden. The only one of those five besides Christie who was net positive among independents was Clinton, and she was only a few points above water at +6 (49/43). Christie is +27. Even more amazing, he’s only six points underwater among Democrats. No one else polled is even remotely close to breaking even with voters from the opposing party. And for all his vaunted RINO-ness, his approval among Republicans is second — barely — to Paul Ryan’s. He’s ahead of both Paul and Cruz in that metric. Don’t read too much into any of that: Like Hillary herself, a big part of Christie’s popularity right now is the sense that he’s a nonpartisan figure because people know him mainly from Sandy relief. That’ll fade as he starts campaigning in earnest and as the left starts playing up the more conservative parts of his record. He’s got quite a cushion at the moment, though, among voters whom the GOP would like to steal. Maybe Jeb can top it, but the bar Christie’s setting is high.