So the Christie watch is finally over. The governor ultimately decided that the timing was off and that he is too much of a “Jersey guy” to run for president right now. One can only imagine what Gov. Chris Christie had been going through over the past couple of weeks, but he had to decide now. Every day he waited, the political theater was becoming more and more surreal. Even though he hadn’t announced that he was running for president, he was beginning to be attacked from all sides as if he were a full blown candidate.
The conservative right was hitting him on his positions on gun control, immigration policy, and same-sex marriage. Some liberal media outlets were blasting him as a pre-emptive strike. President Obama even called out Christie, basically threatening him to run after the governor had made it clear in his speech at a rally in Baton Rouge, “If you’re looking for leadership in America, you’re not going to find it in the Oval Office.” Trust me, Obama would much rather face Romney or Perry than Christie.
It’s funny when it comes to politics in campaigns. Candidates are always more attractive from a distance. But did you ever notice that as soon as they jump in, the media, the pundits, and of course their political enemies begin to pick them apart and then they don’t look so good anymore? Christie knew that, and my sense after knowing him for over a decade, is that while he wasn’t afraid of running for president in any way, he just wasn’t convinced that the timing was right. He knew that if he rolled the dice and lost either the Republican primary or a head-to-head race with Obama, it was going to be extremely difficult to come back to New Jersey and run for re-election in 2013.
Gov. Christie knows the heartbeat of this state. He understands the sense of pride New Jerseyans feel, and the fact that way too often we’ve been seen as a stepchild of New York or, for some politicians, a stepping stone to something “bigger.”
In his announcement that he wasn’t running, Christie had a classic “Christie-like” line: “New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me.” (Another YouTube moment.) You can be assured that this is exactly what Christie is going to remind New Jersey voters of when he runs for reelection in a couple of years. He is going to legitimately be able to say, “I could have run for president, but I decided to stay here in my home state with the people I care about most.” His hope is that voters, even those that disagree with some of his policies, will show him the love back and give him four more years (or at least three until he opts to run for president in 2016).
The other practical obstacle was that it is impossible to run an effective presidential campaign — particularly so late in the game — and still be an effective chief executive. New Jersey’s governor is the most powerful in the country, both practically speaking and according to the 1947 Constitution. Our governor has line item veto power, which not a lot of other governors have. Our governor appoints members to the Supreme Court and lots of other top judicial appointments. The only other statewide elected officials with such power other than our new lieutenant governor includes two US senators who not a lot of people know. Simply put, New Jersey’s governor is by far the most important political player around.
In the end, I’m convinced Christie made the right decision, not just for himself politically, but for his family and for the state. He is still going to have to deal with legitimate criticism of his policies, and I will continue to disagree with him on the so-called Millionaire’s Tax and his opposition to same sex marriage. But overall, it is a good thing for New Jersey that the rest of the country looked at our governor and many of them said, “Why not? Why couldn’t New Jersey’s governor be president?” (Compare that to Snooki and the Situation.)
I’m not saying it would have been easy—and I’m not convinced he would have won — but it would have been a hell of a race and Christie had a legitimate shot at becoming president. That’s heavy stuff at 49 or any age. Either way, all this attention has shown that New Jersey can elect a leader that lots of other folks in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and South Carolina look at and admire. But for now, Chris Christie is staying home. He is stuck with us, and we are stuck with him, and somehow that seems the way it is supposed to be… at least for now.