Change of Pace

Chris Christie for President? New Jersey Governor’s 2012 Tease

Lois Romano on why the N.J. governor’s dropped the proclamations that he’s not ready to be president.

Charles Dharapak / AP Photo

Let’s be clear: Chris Christie is not likely to run for president because he hasn’t lost the requisite weight needed to mount a campaign. Neither has the New Jersey governor started jogging publicly with his security detail to show how fit he is. So I say he does not go.

Which brings us to the current frenzy: After the man has unequivocally declared countless times that he isn’t ready to be president, why are Republicans salivating that he might jump into the mix? And why are the media stalking a man who has said he likes his life as it is, and even jokingly threatened to kill himself to put the speculation to rest?

We are chasing him all over the country, parsing every word not uttered, and scrutinizing how he enters a room. Very wealthy men are calling on him to run, and The Wall Street Journal editorial page has added its voice of encouragement. His brother and father, neither of whom seem to know any more than we do, have weighed in, along with every pundit in America.

“For both the media and the politicos, the candidate always looks greener on the other side of the fence,” says Dan Schnur, a former aide to John McCain and now head of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “There’s nothing new to say about Mitt Romney, and the media are running out to of things to say about Rick Perry. Christie is the new kid.”

So hysterical is the chatter that one almost expected him to make a surprise announcement during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library on Tuesday night. He did not—but it sure sounded as if his “absolutely not” had morphed into “maybe absolutely not.”

“Your country needs you,” one woman pleaded.

“I’m just a kid from Jersey who feels like I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have the opportunity that I have to be the governor of my state,” Christie responded. “That heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. That reason has to reside inside me.”

Well, does it? Christie directed people to a video complied by Politico this week, showing how often and how convincingly he has rebuffed calls to get into the race.

This latest stampede to Christie came after Perry delivered a sometimes incoherent debate performance last week. The Texas governor also managed to anger the party’s right-wing base with a policy offering subsidized education for the children of illegal immigrants.

Perry has been getting pummeled ever since. He has been accused of not being prepared, and of being dumb. And that’s just from Republicans. A recent poll showed Mitt Romney leapfrogging ahead of him—but neither the media nor the party establishment will rally around Romney as a frontrunner.

“That’s because Romney was branded the loser last time, and the narrative hasn’t changed yet,” says Jeff Jarvis, a New Jersey blogger and author who has followed Christie’s career closely. “I can’t tell you what he’s going to do, but I definitely think he’s being coquettish now—instead of cutting speculation off.”

It’s obviously working. Many Republicans, who view the current presidential field as weak, are intrigued by the former U.S. attorney’s straight-talking style and fiscal conservatism, and see him as someone who could go toe-to-toe with President Obama. Still, not everyone agrees that his blunt-speak will work on a national stage.

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In a cringe-inducing moment replayed repeatedly on cable and online, Christie snapped at constituent who asked him about cutting education funds when he sends his own kids to private school. “None of your business” where I send my kids to school, a visibly annoyed Christie lectured.

Christie, 51, is a smart man, an accomplished lawyer, a father of four, and a shrewd manipulator of his image. He knows that with all the hoopla and ego-stroking comes the intense scrutiny of his life and his behavior and his health should he decide to run. Maybe that’s why he has said repeatedly that he’s not ready. But he also knows that the spotlight can only add to his mystique down the road, make him a national player, and bring in money.

Romney, who has the most to lose from a Christie candidacy, was rather composed in discussing the Christie mania driving the media.

“That’s your business. You’ve got to fund some excitement, you’ve got to have some intrigue,” Romney told the panelists on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “Who knows? Maybe he decides to get in. I can’t control what other folks are going to do.”