Sunday, December 28, 2014

For the NJ gov, it wasn't his time

Back to town halls in Piscataway and Parsippany; forget about national debates on prime time. Back to defending criticism from the likes of Loretta Weinberg, senator from Bergen County; forget about high profile attacks from the leader of the free world.

For the NJ gov, it wasn't his time

Gov. Christie holds a town hall meeting in Haddonfield on June 12 in the gym at the borough´s Central Middle School. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
Gov. Christie holds a town hall meeting in Haddonfield on June 12 in the gym at the borough's Central Middle School. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

Back to town halls in Piscataway and Parsippany; forget about national debates on prime time. Back to defending criticism from the likes of Loretta Weinberg, senator from Bergen County; forget about high profile attacks from the leader of the free world.

Gov. Christie’s star fell back to earth Saturday after nearly a year of speculation about whether he would be in national office as early as January.

Last fall, Henry Kissinger, the iconic former secretary of state, told him he should be president, while Nancy Reagan escorted him onto the stage for a major speech that prognosticators thought was an audition for his candidacy.

When he finally told America he wasn’t running, at least not yet, what followed for months on end was questions, ad infinitum, about whether he was going to run for vice president.

Now that is over. The first-term New Jersey governor and GOP hot shot will likely get a concession prize, keynote speaker at the Republican convention in 2 ½ weeks, as the vice presidential candidacy goes to Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.).

Christie got farther than any fancy political expert could have imagined. In the end, he cracked the top five of GOP vice-presidential finalists, which isn’t bad for a first-term governor from the 11th biggest state who went from unelected obscurity to one of the most in-demand Republicans in the country during the Obama years.

Christie was considered a viable No. 2 to Romney because of his immense popularity among Republicans around the country and in blue New Jersey. He has a resume that includes winning terrorism prosecutions as U.S. Attorney and signing fiscally-conservative laws as governor. He doesn’t sound like a politician, nor does he look like a politician. And he is strong where Romney is weak: On his feet dealing with the media, for example, and attacking opponents in a sharp but often funny way.

But Christie’s uniqueness also may have gotten in the way. Blame Sarah Palin.

The memory of Sen. John McCain’s “game-changing” running mate loomed large in this selection process. Picking another “bold” governor with only a couple of years in office would have reminded voters of Palin, skeptics said.

Palin and Christie are not politically similar. They don’t seem to particularly like each other. But they are both prone to being distractions.

The fact that Christie showed up on the front page of the TMZ.com gossip site last month, right in the middle of the veepstakes, probably didn’t help. Video obtained by the web site made it look as if Christie was going to attack a heckler on the Jersey Shore.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. Last month Christie called a reporter “stupid,” which came months after he called a Navy SEAL an “idiot.” Would button-downed Romney want to worry about say-anything Christie? While the Christie shtick still plays extraordinarily well in New Jersey, polls show, it may be too Jersey for Ohio or Tennessee.

Also of possible concern: Christie’s weight, and whether that might signal to voters that he is too unhealthy to take over the presidency. While online trolls have trashed Christie for his excessive weight, he also has been taken to task by newspaper columnists and TV pundits.

More substantive issues may have been at play, too.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, which would have complicated any Christie attacks on Obama for the nation's unemployment.

In June, a three-part, front-page series in The New York Times connected Christie to a private company that runs troubled halfway houses in the state. It was unwelcome attention for a vice presidential hopeful.

Also in June, a potential major legislative victory -- a tax cut deal for overtaxed New Jerseyans -- slipped through Christie’s fingers.

Formerly pro-choice, with published comments about guns and Muslims that troubled elements of the Republican base, Christie may have not passed the conservative sniff test, either.

The governor is still one of the Republican party’s most dynamic stars. He is likely to shine in Tampa at the convention. And as Christie continues to campaign and raise money for Romney, he will build his Rolodex for his own future presidential run -- in 2016 if Romney loses, or thereafter.

He’s only 49 years old, remember. After the election he’ll announce whether he’s running for re-election in New Jersey next year.

And if not, he may have other options. A President Romney will need an Attorney General.

But in the mean time, the governor will go back to being the governor. This heady phase of Christie’s political career -- the Jersey guy who made a big, sudden splash in the pool of presidential politics -- is over.

For now.

"Two weeks ago I was definitely going to be the keynote speaker. Now this morning I'm going to be the vice president," Christie said earlier this week. "Tomorrow I may be nothing. Who knows?"

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