Abandon ship: Christie losing donors in his own backyard to Jeb Bush

Not just to Jeb, actually. Christie would be fine if he was the go-to guy for Republican millionaires who dislike the idea of Bush 3.0, but per the NYT, it’s Scott Walker who’s becoming the default Not Jeb even in the NYC metro area.

Increasingly I see political junkies on Twitter wondering if Christie will bother running at all. Are we sure that’d be good news, though? Think hard.

He does not return phone calls. He does not ask for support. He arrives late for meetings. And he acts as if he has all the time in the world.

The complaints have piled up for weeks, dismaying many longtime supporters of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and sending others into the arms of his rivals for the presidential nomination, according to interviews with more than two dozen Republican donors and strategists…

Some supporters critical of the governor’s campaign blame what they call “the Christie bubble,” a tight-knit circle of advisers who have known him for years and have worked for him through most of his tenure in Trenton. Virtually impenetrable to newcomers, this small group is seen as effective at home but also, now, as shielding him too closely from the realities of a competitive national campaign. Even after the George Washington Bridge lane closings and the resulting scandal, and amid a continuing federal investigation, Mr. Christie has not broadly expanded his inner circle.

The biggest name he’s lost so far to Jeb is billionaire Woody Johnson, who owns the New York Jets and has known Christie for years. So has New Jersey state senator Joseph Kyrillos, who actually chaired Christie’s campaign for governor six years ago and was spotted last month at a dinner in New York organized for, er, Jeb Bush:

Bush has stopped short of directly confronting Christie by holding a fundraiser on his home turf. But behind the scenes, he has been quietly wooing, via e-mail, a cadre of high-profile Christie backers, including a group that attended a private dinner with Bush at New York’s Union League Club in January…

“Kyrillos is a very good bellwether for what’s happening in New Jersey,” [Romney advisor Spencer] Zwick said of the state senator. “If Christie decides to run, he’s going to need the support from the people closest to him to sustain him until he can get national Republican support.”

Zwick, who has not committed to a 2016 candidate, added, “Personally, I have had my own reservations about what Governor Christie did at a key moment in the last presidential election and let it be known to him and others,” a reference to extensive public praise by Christie of President Obama for the federal response to Hurricane Sandy in the late stages of the campaign. “But I do not believe he had bad intentions and I have moved on.”

Say what you will about Bush’s politics but his strategy of clubbing fellow RINOs early on with the giant bags of money he’s getting from the donor class is paying off. Romney might not admit it but Jeb’s bankroll probably helped convince him to pass on the race; it’s one thing to run for the third time in eight years, it’s another to have to outraise the Bush machine while doing it. Now Jeb may be on the verge of forcing Christie out of the race by cutting off most of his financial supply lines. Bush knew that the GOP establishment wanted to narrow the choice of centrist candidates as quickly as possible in order to present a united front against the right-wingers, so he went all-out early to make the cost of running almost prohibitively expensive for his closest rivals. I’ll bet that even some donors who prefer Christie on the merits are now lining up behind Jeb purely in the interest of clearing the field for the strongest centrist nominee. None of this is going to help Bush against Hillary Clinton but the blitzkrieg strategy is a shrewd way to try to win the nomination early.

I don’t think it’s going to work on Christie, though. According to the Times, Christie’s friends say “he is convinced that his raw talent and charisma can overcome the political obstacles in his way.” I believe that he believes it — that’s Christie in a nutshell, right? — and … that’s actually good news for righties, no? In fact, a wounded, underfunded Christie with little chance at the nomination who decides to run anyway could be an ideal development for conservative candidates. If Jeb had passed on the race and Christie was raking in all the establishment dough, he’d be out there pounding tea partiers like Cruz and Rand Paul every day and he’d be a serious threat to win. As it is, not only is he no threat but the wounds to his pride being inflicted every day by Bush may lead him to train most of his fire on Jeb if he runs rather than on the Cruzes and Pauls in the race. Even Romney, irritated by Bush’s presumptuousness in declaring his candidacy early and wooing “Mitt’s” donors, seemed at one point like he wanted to run mainly to punish Bush by making his own path to the nomination more difficult. Christie might feel the same way — and unlike Romney, he could be a forceful, effective hatchet man against Bush if he settles on that as a strategy. Christie’s never better than when he’s playing wrecking ball to a target that deserves it, and the Bush machine richly deserves it. The role of plain-spoken blue-collar underdog is a much better fit for him too than establishment champion backed by country-clubbers would have been had Jeb not run. He won’t win the nomination but imagine the satisfaction if he hobbles Bush badly enough to help his friend Scott Walker to the nomination. In fact, that might be the surest way for Christie to rehab his image with the right. They’d hate the idea of giving him a cabinet position now, but if he went out there and blew up Jeb by railing against dynasties and Common Core? Christie might have a second act in him after all.

But maybe he won’t go that route. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on Jeb winning the nomination — the donor class tends to get what it wants, my friends — in which case Christie’s most rational play is to swallow hard, accept that Bushworld’s burned his path to the nomination, and try to earn Jeb’s favor by going after Walker instead. He’s lost favor with both wings of the party right now and most of the money and power is on the establishment end, in which case why not try to get back in their good graces by being a stalking horse for Bush 3.0? President Jeb might reward him. Or maybe President George P. Bush will in 2028. You can’t go wrong as an ambitious pol doing favors for the Bushes. There’ll always be another along in an election or two to make it worth your while.

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