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January 21, 2014 4:54 PM The Empire Will Strike Back

By Ed Kilgore

At the Daily Beast, Mike Tomasky looks at the meta-politics of the Christie saga, and winds up almost exactly where I’ve been from the moment the New Jersey governor got into big trouble: the 2016 Republican field no longer has a bankable Establishment figure who can wow conservatives with fabulous general-election prospects.

I trust you’re enjoying the Christie panic among Republican establishment types as much as I am. That New York Times story on Sunday, with big boosters like Home Depot’s Kenneth Langone fretting publicly that he really must surround himself with better people (so it’s their fault!), combined with the cable damage-control efforts by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, really shows the extent to which the party big shots have been counting on Christie to save them.
They know deep down that there isn’t a single other figure in their party who can come within yodeling distance of 270 electoral votes. Certainly not against Hillary Clinton. Against her, the rest of them max out at around 180, which would constitute the biggest wipeout since Bill Clinton thumped Bob Dole in 1996 (379-159). Imagine Republicans waking up on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 and reading: “Not in 20 years—in fact not since her husband trounced Bob Dole in his anti-climatic reelection campaign—has a Democrat won so lopsided a victory.”
They know deep down that there isn’t a single other figure in their party who can come within yodeling distance of 270 electoral votes. Certainly not against Hillary Clinton. Against her, the rest of them max out at around 180, which would constitute the biggest wipeout since Bill Clinton thumped Bob Dole in 1996 (379-159). Imagine Republicans waking up on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 and reading: “Not in 20 years—in fact not since her husband trounced Bob Dole in his anti-climatic reelection campaign—has a Democrat won so lopsided a victory.”

The Establishment types really just have two choices: they can try to keep Christie out of the deep ditch by minimizing his problems and hope he can put it all in the rear-view mirror quickly, or they can take a long look at their other potential champions, probably settling on (and settling for) Paul Ryan, a dubious commodity indeed. So they’ll pursue the first path as long as it’s open to them. Here’s how Tomasky sums it up:

[T]he establishment isn’t going to give up on Christie easily. And of course he can enjoy the benefit in these next weeks and months of becoming a more sympathetic figure to the hard right than he’s ever been, because all he has to do to please that crowd is carry on about how the East Coast liberal media are trying to do him in. And it may just work.
But ultimately, facts are facts. And if the facts finish him off, and the GOP is stuck with Cruz-Rubio-Paul, or even a right-wing governor like Scott Walker, the establishment will be reaping what it’s spent the Obama years sowing: a party that cares more about feeding its base’s fever-dreams than being nationally electable. And that’s where things stand, as Christie begins a term that there’s a sporting chance he may not even be able to finish.

I’d add that damage-mitigation won’t be enough to put Christie’s presidential prospects back together gain. He needs to be riding high in general election polls before “the base” will go along with him instead of the red-meat-peddling ideologues they really want. So the Establishment sure has it’s work cut out for it, and it’s unclear how much Christie himself will be able to help them.

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.

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