Enten’s point is simple. For most major candidates, you can predict how popular they are within their own party if you know how well-known they are. That makes sense, as most Republican voters will naturally like most Republican candidates. Even the guys you don’t end up supporting agree with you on 90-95 percent of the issues. What’s not to like? So, in Romney’s case, because he’s so familiar to Republicans, his net favorable rating is north of +50. Huckabee is a bit less familiar but still pretty darned familiar from his Fox News show, so he’s north of +40. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz are all less well known than Huck and so their net favorable rating diminishes accordingly. And so on and so forth. There are some notable exceptions: George W. Bush was waaaaay more popular than you’d expect when he was first being introduced to Republicans nationally, probably because of his surname. Interestingly, Jeb Bush is a bit less popular than you’d expect — again, probably because of his surname. Ben Carson is outperforming expectations in the earlygoing, likely because of his distinguished career and his Fox News presence. And then you come to … Chris Christie, who is, per Enten, “more than two standard deviations below what we’d expect from a candidate like him.” Apart from Romney, he’s the best known candidate in the entire field. And apart from the little-known Bobby Jindal, whose popularity should grow as he becomes more familiar to Republicans, no one is less popular. I wonder how many establishmentarians are looking at Enten’s graph today and thinking that having Romney in the race isn’t so bad after all. If Romney had passed and Jeb ended up tanking, they might well have been stuck with Mr. Two Standard Deviations.
Oh well. Looks like he’s running anyway. I’ve asked this question before, but in light of the new reality, let me ask it again: If he has no chance of being president now, why not lose as a third-party independent candidate? If he proceeds as a Republican and gets blitzed in Iowa and New Hampshire, flaming out of the race shortly before or after South Carolina, he’ll be humiliated. Every one of the many, many political enemies he’s made during his career will be laughing at him in the media. It’ll be an ignominious end to his national ambitions, the story of the guy who could have been a force in 2012 but missed his chance and ended up as an also-ran. If instead he runs as an indie, he’ll start with 10 percent support purely as a protest vote against the two parties. He’s perfectly suited temperamentally and rhetorically to be the blunt, pox-on-both-their-houses outsider. He might well power up to 15-20 percent support nationally, good enough to land him a place in the presidential debates as the Perot figure. He’ll still lose badly on election day but he’ll be a major factor in the election. And if Republicans hate him afterward for spoiling their chance to beat Hillary, so what? They hate him already. He’ll be a player in politics, especially if he decides to make nice afterward with President Hillary. At this point, what does he have to lose?