Todd’s point, I think, is simply that Christie’s been subdued and apologetic lately, which is useful in countering his scandal-fueled image as a bully but not so useful in impressing the people who are thinking of bankrolling his presidential run. They want the old Christie, the fightin’ RINO who’s going to get in people’s faces and not take sh*t from anyone. That’s the sort of center-right candidate, they think, who’ll be able to connect with middle-class voters on the trail in a way that no nominee has done since Dubya. The more Christie tones things down, the more he risks losing the special combative Christie charm that his fans like about him. I thought country-club Republicans would cut him a break on that for now, knowing that it’s important for him to appear contrite during the Bridgegate storm. Evidently not, per Todd — and, per Baier, their temporary displeasure in some cases isn’t so temporary. He makes it sound like some big-money GOPers are prepared to abandon ship. Maybe they’ve concluded that Bridgegate has forever poisoned Christie’s pugnaciousness: Even if the scandal passes and he returns to his old ways, his willingness to confront critics will always be seen going forward through the prism of bullying. (MSNBC and the media will see to that.)
Or maybe some of these people were never big on Christie in the first place and have seized on this as an opportunity to entice some centrist rival into the race. Some Romney donors hate the guy for betraying Mitt in 2012, other establishment donors simply prefer Jeb (or Scott Walker) and have been eager for space to open up for them in the field. Christie’s huge approval rating and landslide reelection meant they had to wait, but at the first sign that he’s damaged goods, the anti-Christie donors are now leaping into action to whisper to media pals that he’s DOA for 2016. Maybe that’s enough to finally lure a serious centrist into that race. I’ll frankly be surprised if, in the next 10 days, there isn’t a story in some major paper about Bush and/or Walker fielding calls from members of the donor class who are newly eager to feel them out for 2016. The novelty of Christie, supposedly, was that he could bring independents and Democrats (especially Democratic-leaning Latinos) into the fold like no one else in the GOP. But if Bridgegate, or Christie’s newly subdued demeanor, begins to weaken that effect, then there’s no reason to prefer him to some other centrist and plenty of reason (starting with the fact that the a swath of the base really dislikes him) not to. Which reminds me — behold the new numbers from Pew:
No racial breakdown there, and of course his numbers from January 2013 were even rosier than usual in the near-aftermath of Sandy, but he’s gone from being double-digits net positive among Democrats to double-digits net negative. How bad those numbers get might determine whether Christie’s viable or not — an unusual position for a would-be nominee for the other party to be in, but when you’re selling yourself as the bridge-building bipartisan choice, that’s life. Exit quotation from Eliana Johnson:
“The idea that he’s the prohibitive front-runner is over,” says a Republican strategist. Among the party’s money men, the reaction to the scandal that has rocked Trenton for the past week is divided. While some remain firmly supportive, others say the release of e-mails showing that one of Christie’s top aides colluded to close traffic lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge has confirmed their worst suspicions about him. “This is one of the few moments where there’s not a pack mentality,” says the strategist.