Today has been a bad day in the bad month of the bad year for the presidential hopes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Dueling articles in The New York Times and Washington Post sketch out a candidacy mired in myopia, slack fundraising, and poll-negativity. The Times piece begins like this:
He does not return phone calls. He does not ask for support. He arrives late for meetings. And he acts as if he has all the time in the world.
And the Post:
Christie is rapidly losing support among some of his most prominent home-state donors and power brokers, who are either hesitant to back him or shifting allegiance to former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Christie and Bush have been fighting for the same slot within the GOP 2016 field, one that two-time loser Mitt Romney would have gone after had he stuck around: the Establishment pick. A swath of smart money seeks a candidate who above all will be electable, preferably by proving that he can succeed with constituencies that are normally hostile to Republicans. Christie is a governor in a Democratic state; Bush is an ex-governor from a divided state who was popular among Latinos. Importantly, neither come off as disqualifyingly "crazy" (in the eye of the beholder, I know).
But there are three big problems with "electability" as the preferred virtue here: 1) The party tried that, and failed, in both 2012 and 2008. Romney was a blue-state governor who did health care, John McCain was a once and future maverick who won the nomination despite failing to win even a plurality among self-identified Republican voters in any of the early-state primaries. They both ate Barack Obama's dust. 2) There has been a historic upsurge in anti-establishment sentiment and action on the right since 2008, and no matter how fiercely the Establishment tries to tamp it down, that energy is not likely to voluntarily disperse in the face of a hand-picked Better, particularly if he has the last name "Bush." As Charles C.W. Cooke accurately points out in his new book The Conservatarian Manifesto, basically no Republican describes himself as a "Bush conservative," for the excellent reason that George W. Bush created the very problems that the Tea Party et al arose to protest.
Oh, and 3) It's hard to be "electable" when you are a terrible candidate, and/or GOP voters are motivated to despise you. Christie, for all his public sector union-busting bluster, is a big-government conservative who presides over a remarkably intrusive, Progressive-Era-designed state government tailor-made for corruption scandals and imperious behavior. None of this stuff sells well west of New Jersey Turpike, and will provide plenty of raw material for opposition researchers and MSNBC specials as far as the eye can see. Many Republicans will also not soon forget his me-me-me speech at the 2012 Republian National Convention or his pre-election embrace of President Barack Obama. The selling proposition, too, is unclear; as a presidential pretender Christie's as vague and vacuous as he is specific and pugnacious on his home turf. And of course libertarians don't like the guy, not only for his uninspiring record (on stuff like surveillance, medical marijuana, and corporate welfare), but because he deems our ideas "dangerous."
So what about Jeb Bush's electability? Aside from that contentious last name, and the fact that he last won election in 2002, and that he passionately backs an education reform despised by many Republicans (and Democrats), consider this: Even with his massive name recognition, which gives artificial polling advantage this early in a campaign season, Bush, when measured in head-to-head contests against Hillary Clinton, consistently lags behind Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Lord knows its early, but with Romney out of the way, Christie imploding on the launch pad, and Jeb still trailing the allegedly out-there libertarian candidate, a question already haunts Campaign 2016: Where will the GOP Establishment money go next? It could be Scott Walker or bust sooner than you think.