Chris Christie's presidential ambitions are almost certainly over and done with but where does that leave the rest of the GOP field in 2016?
The New Jersey governor's entire political career is now coming under the microscope in the aftermath of Bridgegate, it's increasingly difficult to foresee a scenario where Christie can mount a plausible bid for the Republican nomination in 2016. Without Christie as a contender, it leaves a major hole for Establishment Republicans in the 2016 race. While Rand Paul has long been a libertarian darling, and Ted Cruz has become a political superstar among Tea Partiers, the list of credible Republican contenders who could appeal to Wall Street and the country club set is short.
Christie had long monopolized this niche as a candidate who, in many ways, would be a throwback to the George W. Bush era of the GOP. In fact, Bridgegate came about, at least in part, because Christie strenuously imitated Bush's 1998 reelection bid for Texas governor, trying to win over as many Democrats as possible in order to appear as a bipartisan figure who was "a uniter not a divider." Who will be 2016's George W. Bush then?
Jeb Bush, of course! The former governor of Florida may not want to run for president and also bears a political handicap because of the ongoing unpopularity of his brother. The rest of the establishment field is not particularly that exciting or even that center-right. Both Marco Rubio and Scott Walker are relatively conservative, but both face obstacles to any presidential bid: Rubio would have to give up his Senate seat and is still hamstrung by his support for immigration reform; while business leaders may admire Walker for his fervent anti-union efforts in Wisconsin, the governor is a college dropout who is not a terribly good retail politician and is tainted by scandal in his homestate.
The ranks are so thin that establishment Republicans have been kicking around names like Mitt Romney and Joe Scarborough as candidates. Romney has already ruled out running again, and Scarborough, despite being a former Florida congressman with a very conservative voting record, is still an MSNBC television host. That's the dilemna for establishment Republicans without Christie. Whereas there is a surplus of conservative talent with potential candidates like Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry among others, the establishment wing of the party has a very weak bench without Christie. Then again, as establishment candidates go, Scarborough couldn't be much worse than Jon Huntsman.