Political Animal


January 24, 2013 3:53 PM Chris Christie and the “First Primary”

By Ed Kilgore

Speaking of the 2016 contest, as I guess we must now and then at a site called Political Animal: Esquire’s Mark Warren offers a threshold for credible presidential candidates that I’d like to challenge a bit:

It is now the Beltway bromide that in presidential politics, money is the first and most important primary. But no, this visceral, instinctual, and quick series of binding judgments that we make about a candidate, almost on sight, is the first primary.

Warren says this by way of suggesting that Martin O’Malley and Chris Christie have the “it factor” of immediate personal appeal—he doesn’t say charisma, but we’re clearly in charisma’s neighborhood—that could make them formidable presidential candidates from the get-go.

Personally, I’d say the “first primary” that culls the candidates from the pretenders is neither money nor “visceral” appeal, but the ability to represent some important constituency in the party, whether it’s among the elites, the interest-and-identity groups, the rank-and-file, or ideally all three. And that’s why when Mitt Romney was struggling to nail down the GOP nomination in 2012, he was fighting Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, not John Thune. Looking and sounding good is always a plus, but not always essential, which explains the old joke about politics being show-business for ugly people.

In any event, I do not share the widespread belief that Christie is the guy to watch in 2016. I don’t doubt his “entertainment value,” as Warren puts it, or the “genuine appeal” of someone who is unabashedly “a colossal asshole.” But all these descriptors also perfectly describe Rudy Giuliani at this point in the 2008 cycle. Rudy ran first in all the early polls. Like Christie, he had been a prosecutor and a very successful public-sector executive. He had some high-profile conservative validators (Rick Perry, Pat Robertson). He dominated every room he was in. Conservatives ate up his liberal-bashing with great big spoons. Then he vanished without a trace the minute primary voting began.

It’s true that Christie doesn’t violate as many ideological litmus tests as Giuliani did, but it’s also true the GOP has developed quite a few more of them than it had in 2008. But more to the point, it’s impossible to count how many 2016 primary voters and caucus participants will have a very hard time ever, ever forgiving Christie for his “endorsement” of Obama via the praise he offered during and after Sandy. You think Rudy had to crawl on his belly to overcome his abortion and gay rights heresies (all for naught)? It’s nothing to what Christie will have to do.

Because that’s such a Sisyphean task, maybe Mark Warren is right that in the end Christie would do as well to stop toadying to the Right and start treating his intraparty critics like he treats public employees, and boost his general election numbers to the point where they have to nominate him. But that will only work if it’s a stark and unavoidable choice between winning and losing. And as we learned during the 2012 general election, conservatives are perfectly capable of overestimating their chances of victory.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on January 24, 2013 5:11 PM:

    Christie is the one who really worries me.

    He has gotten a lot of bipartisan bona fides since Sandy.

    Thankfully, he's got to overcome reaching out to Obama, with the Republican base.

    Rubio, too. But he's a bit of a lightweight.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see Jim DeMint run as a Washington outsider - humoruous as that may be.

    Maybe after 4 years of coaching, Rick Perry might send a thrill up Conservatives legs.

    Basically, it's too early to speculate.
    We'll have a better of idea of who is interested, and who has a chance, right after the 2014 election.
    The results of that, might have a major impact on the '16 Presidential.
    If, by some chance, the Republicans get their asses handed to them in 2014, and lose the House, that may cause them to have at least a minor "Come to Jesus" moment.
    But, after the gerrymandering, I doubt there's a chance that that will happen.

  • scott_m on January 24, 2013 5:13 PM:

    You think Rudy had to crawl on his belly to overcome his abortion and gay rights heresies (all for naught)? It's nothing to what Christie will have to do.

    I should think that in Christie's case, making him crawl on his belly would be penance enough.

  • Doug on January 24, 2013 5:13 PM:

    As you say, any "problems" concerning the possibility of Christie getting the nomination in 2016 are solely due the GOP's problems. The purity tests, and that photo with President Obama, would require even more flip-flopping from Christie than Romney ever contemplated.
    There are two things that MIGHT make a Christie nomination more viable: a Republican drubbing in 2014 comparable to 2006 and the (slim) possibility that, drubbing or not, the non-crazy GOP-ers get p*ssed off enough to "take back their party". I don't hold out much hope for that latter to happen.
    After all, no good Republican is a "taker"...

  • Josef K on January 24, 2013 5:20 PM:

    And as we learned during the 2012 general election, conservatives are perfectly capable of overestimating their chances of victory.

    The 2012 election is going to be among the most studied and dissected, I'll wager. There's no simple, single-sentence explanation for Romney's nomination, especially coming out of such a crowded and ideologically-homogeneous crowd. At least not one that I can conceive.

    Governor Christie's name recognition is one thing; actual experience with the man is quite another, and likely to be no less detrimental to his hypothetical candidacy than Romney's poor showing in public was. I almost pity the man, but not nearly as much as I pity the country.

  • rrk1 on January 24, 2013 5:20 PM:

    Wouldn't it be nice to stop worrying about 2016, and talk realistically about 2014? That could be the make-or-break election if the Rethugs take the Senate, which they just may well given Reid's capitulation on the filibuster. The Rethugs will fix the filibuster in no time flat if they take over. Obama might just as well go to Hawaii and stay there.

  • NCSteve on January 24, 2013 5:47 PM:

    Candidates like Giuliani and Perry vanish after the primaries start because that's when the ones who can make the minimally competent financial, managerial, strategic and tactical decisions necessary to run a presidential campaign get separated from the ones who can't.

  • T2 on January 24, 2013 5:49 PM:

    I just think he's too fat. That will cause health issues and PR issues.

  • hornblower on January 24, 2013 6:07 PM:

    Stop talking about the 2016 election. It just demonstrates the lack of real news to discuss at the present time. Shut down the site if this is all we have.

  • CJColucci on January 24, 2013 6:08 PM:

    You think Rudy had to crawl on his belly to overcome his abortion and gay rights heresies (all for naught)? Itís nothing to what Christie will have to do.

    Can Christie crawl on his belly?

  • hells littlest angel on January 24, 2013 6:42 PM:

    Can Christie crawl on his belly?

    The question is, can he get back up again?

  • mrs. j on January 24, 2013 9:51 PM:

    Christie garnered a coolness factor that certainly bothers me since he really seems unhinged half the time screaming at passers-by, at those who ask about schools, and unionized teachers.
    He is an affable human who performed well during the hurricane disaster. He showed humanity towards the liberal president, which I guarantee will cost him.
    Four years from now who knows if he will retain the high percentage of favorability.
    Agree with C u n d e gulag that he might be problematic for dems but maybe not with that bear hug on Obama.

    I would like to see Sherrod Brown of Ohio run for president and he would have my support.

  • gyrfalcon on January 25, 2013 2:01 AM:

    A party whose base is in the deep South ain't gonna nominate a big, fat, loudmouth, quintessentially New Jersey pol.

    Giuliani bombed, but Christie is a great deal smarter and more believable. If he won the GOP nomination, he'd be a threat, but no way he gets the nomination, even if he didn't have the Obama smooching, not to mention the Muslim judge he appointed.

  • simulated annealing on January 25, 2013 4:04 AM:

    What about O'Malley - no thoughts on the dem?