I asked this on Twitter and naturally 50 people instantly responded “SMOD.” Sorry, we’re not that lucky. With Jeb in the race, Christie very likely to get in, and Romney and Rubio now likely to pass, the field of loud-and-proud centrists appears to be set at two. And since the donor class loves centrists and the donor class tends to get its way in presidential primaries, that means one of these two guys is likely to be nominee. If it comes to that, whom do you prefer? And before you say “I’ll stay home,” let me note: (1) conservatives say that every time a moderate lands the nomination and every time they end up turning out for him in the general, and (2) I’m not asking whether you’ll vote for either of them. I’m asking who you’d rather see as president. Jeb, right? Bush has been louder than Christie has in pushing immigration reform but we’ll all be shocked if Christie is any less of a RINO on amnesty in practice than Jeb is. Meanwhile, Jeb at least is well regarded by the NRA; Christie’s relationship with the NRA is more contentious. But then, if you’re worried about electability, Christie has none of the baggage that comes with the Bush name. And Ben Shapiro is right that Jeb is more closely identified with amnesty among voters who pay attention, even if he and Christie doubtless share many of the same positions on the issue:
GOP geniuses. In 2012, top issue was Obamacare, so we ran the Republican who invented it. In 2016, top issue is immigration, so we run Jeb?
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2014
Follow-up question: If Jeb is serious about running a “truth-telling campaign” in the primaries aimed at marginalizing conservatives, how does that change Christie’s tactics? The irony of Jeb taking on the dreaded tea-party hordes is that it’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect Christie to do. He’s the guy, after all, who built a national reputation for going toe to toe with his critics, including his critics on the right. Punching tea partiers on the stump would have been a shrewd way for him to earn the donor class’s love — except for the fact that it sounds like Jeb’s going to do the same thing, if not as combatively. So what does Christie do now? Plow ahead and throw roundhouses at the right anyway, hoping that centrist Republicans will quickly come to see him and not Jeb as the RINO warrior they’ve dreamed of? Or does he surprise everyone by changing direction and going after Jeb for trying to drive a wedge into a party that should be coming together to beat Democrats? Voters love unity pitches; and while defending tea partiers from Bush won’t get Christie votes on the right, it might earn him the respect he needs to get them to turn out for him in the general. That is to say, if Christie’s destined to be overshadowed by Bush and his mammoth donor-class support, the smart play might be to position himself early as the “Not Jeb” in the race. The more he can turn the campaign into a “Bush versus Christie” storyline, the more it would push other serious contenders like Walker and Paul out of the spotlight. There will, I think, be some burst of anti-Bush energy in the primaries, especially if Jeb looks strong early. Christie needs to figure out a way to harness it or else he’ll be an afterthought before he knows it.
One more follow-up because I can’t resist: If you had to choose between Jeb, Christie, and Romney, who would you choose? I’m guessing most readers would say Romney, partly because they found him acceptable enough once before to vote for him and partly because Romney, though famously stiff, is also the most likable of the three. Christie is boorish and Jeb, rightly or wrongly, will be seen as aloof and entitled because of his dynastic pedigree. Plus, Romney’s the only one of the three (so far) who’s tried to mend fences with the right. We all laughed at his “severely conservative” nonsense at CPAC a few years ago but at least the guy wanted our votes. That’s not nothing. Frankly, given Christie’s ever lengthening odds at winning and Romney’s obvious ambition, I wonder if the smart play for both isn’t to unite, have Romney challenge Jeb, and have Christie sit out with a tacit promise to land on the ticket as VP if Romney wins. I don’t think Christie would go for it, though: An ego as big as his won’t accept that he can’t be president unless he sees it for himself, and there’s really no reason to think “somewhat conservative” voters would prefer the retread Romney to the comparatively fresh-faced Bush, who’ll have lots of hype behind him. Why throw in with a guy who struggled early to win the nomination in a famously weak field last time and then ended up being blown out by a president with eight percent unemployment on his record? I think it’s Bush versus Christie in the center — unless, of course, Rubio shocks the world by jumping in anyway.