But if there’s one issue where the GOP is clearly evolving in the wake of its 2012 defeat, it’s immigration. We now live in a Republican universe in which Sean Hannity is talking about a pathway to citizenship and urging Republicans “to get rid of the immigration issue altogether.” There will always be some hardcore nativists within the GOP, but here’s betting that by ’16 Christie’s past immigration pronouncements – and those of many other Republicans – won’t matter much to the bulk of the party.

Ditto for Medicaid expansion. Christie announced this week that New Jersey would participate in the implementation of ObamaCare after all. But so what? Seven other Republican governors – including Florida’s Rick Scott, who was one of the most prominent voices fighting the ACA in 2009 and 2010 – are doing the same, a number that will only grow in the years ahead. Generic promises to repeal ObamaCare may still be required for national GOP candidates in ’16; and if so, Christie will surely comply. But if the Medicaid issue comes up, he could tell Republicans that the atrocity of ObamaCare was forced on him and that he was just doing his best to deal with it; chances are, this won’t prompt a rebellion in the party at that point…

This is all a long way of saying that Christie should be considered a very viable prospect for the GOP nod. He hasn’t passed the ideological point of no return on any litmus test issues, is much more conservative than the “moderate” label that’s frequently attached to him suggests, and will be free after this November to recalibrate himself for the national GOP stage. There’s also the matter of his personality. Political science tells us that this doesn’t matter in campaigns, but I don’t quite agree. His charisma isn’t the only reason Christie rocketed to national political fame over the past few years, but it’s certainly a big part of the equation. I may be a little biased on this, since I began watching Christie up-close a decade ago, but I’ve long believed there’s is something about his style that makes people – especially Republicans – want to like him and support him.