Chris Christie, you may have heard, is thinking about running for president. People act as if having Christie in the race will be a head-exploding sensation.
Maybe. But it won’t be a surprise.
If Chris Christie doesn’t run, he’ll be defying a perfect storm of coalescing forces far heavier than he’ll ever be.
That act of defiance would rank among the great feats of willpower in human history. And in our day and age, that kind of thing just doesn’t happen.
If Christie runs, it’ll be less a sign of his personal greatness than proof positive that what we think is happening to America really is. That goes double if he wins.
Logic tells us that Christie should do a cannonball into this race. He embodies and validates three big national trends:
Character counts. When casting about for a leader, the experts tell us we care a lot about “the intangibles” — a mix of hard-to-define qualities that we’re used to discussing with words like “charisma,” “attitude,” “the x factor.”
Obama supposedly had lots of these things going for him in 2008. This time around, those vague terms fully fail to describe him. His unique character — perhaps shared only by the most pouting, aloof and self-entitled cat ever to let itself appear in a Fancy Feast commercial — is crystal clear to all.
The crashing disappointment accompanying Obama’s painful decline from intangible factor to tangible character reflects a broader and brewing American disgust with all things indirect, complex, dissembling and distant. It’s a disgust born of the exhaustion we feel as real life comes at us with undiminished force, and the helplessness we experience when it seems we can’t place our hopes in anything more visceral than Washington’s virtual value and absentee authority.
When it comes to character, Chris Christie makes Mitt Romney and Rick Perry look Obamaesque — both stuck waffling between micromanagerial policy and rhetoric with all the authentic spontaneity of a robocall with a teleprompter. The style of Christie’s frank speech is inseparable from its substance. That’s the mark of character, and that’s why he commands attention to a degree beyond that of all other Republican candidates.
Establishments bite. Pro tip: There’s more than one establishment, and they’ve all got credibility problems. Texas politics, about as fluid as the Alamo, has produced with Rick Perry a candidate as accustomed to winning by mastering a fixed system as Mitt Romney, whose eastern-corridor acumen has rigor and discipline going for it but not popularity.
Americans are up in the air. Their world is sideways at best, upside-down at worst. No establishment — not the GOP old guard, not the Bush-era conservatives and not the neo-moderates — has sold the American people on its stewardship.
The moment belongs to the candidate who can jump into the midst of a mess and fix it on the fly — not because they’ve been groomed to do turnarounds, or because they love winning and understand timing, but because that’s the world they’ve come of political age within. Perry’s governorship began on December 21, 2000, Romney’s on January 3, 2003. Christie took office on January 19, 2010. Politically, he is a man of our time. That matters.
Unity calls. Christie’s ideological iconoclasm — He defended illegals! He appointed a Muslim! — seems, at first blush, to add to the already dizzying array of fractures on the right of center. New Jersey may be considered a blue state, but Christie’s appeal is purple — not in the smooth monotone of the nationwide electoral map, but in the bewildering hodgepodge of county-by-county returns.
No faction or interest group on the right seems responsible for Christie. That doesn’t mean he’s wanting for roots or lodestars. He’s not a nowhere man like Obama. He’s a guy who got Andrew Breitbart, Ann Coulter and Ross Douthat in his corner — each for different reasons.
Plus, he’s a guy who can prove he’s more acceptable to everyone than everyone’s least favorite top-tier candidate. If that sounds too strong a note of “compromise,” put it this way: Not one pound and not one hair of Christie’s was out of place at the Reagan Library, before its assembled heavies and conservative faithful. He was equal to the occasion. Perhaps bizarrely, that would not have been so for any of the declared candidates — in part for “intangible” reasons, but more so for the tangible ones. The incompleteness they give off, their strengths notwithstanding, stems from the basic problem that they can’t really unify the spirit of their party simply by being themselves.
Most Americans by far want to see that unity out of their presidential nominee. That may not be fair or even wise, but it is a natural consequence of the nationalization of all issues, the perilous, parlous state of American governance, and our fruitful but debilitating surge of partisan subfactions.
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This isn’t a love letter to Chris Christie. It certainly isn’t an airtight case as to why anyone ought to support him for president. Christie is hardly immune to the crosscutting problems and pressures that face any declared nominee.
But he’s the representative man of our times. His personal gifts, his liabilities, his size and shape: they’re part of a reality we’re all part of, for better or worse. That’s why he commands our attention. That’s why he’s got all kinds of Republicans (obscure and elite, obscene and effete) beating at his door. And that’s why Christie’s decision — even if he vetoes it, even if only to prove that he can — has already been made for him.
James Poulos is the host of The Bottom Line and Reform School on PJTV. A doctoral candidate in Government at Georgetown University, he holds degrees from Duke and USC Law. His writing has appeared in The American Conservative, The Boston Globe, Cato Unbound, The National Interest, and The Weekly Standard, among others, and is featured in the collection Proud to Be Right, edited by Jonah Goldberg. He has been an editor at Ricochet.com and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. He lives in Los Angeles. His Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.