a strategic candidate might have looked at the landscape in 2011 and said, “You know what, I’ll have a better shot in 2016.” And we aren’t suggesting that there aren’t idiosyncratic factors at work either. It’s just to say that Christie’s decision was nicely in line with what political science says.Put that way, I would have to agree. And yet.
If we can assume that Christie really did have a very good shot at the nomination...had he asked me at any point in 2011 whether he should run or not, I would definitely have said to go for it.
Yes, the economy plus a first-term president made any Republican a legitimate longshot. However, the economy was rocky enough in 2011 that a significant downturn was a very real possibility. And then there's the chance that Obama would have stumbled in some other way: a scandal, mismanagement of Afghanistan, or a Katrina-like disaster.
And then there's the other side of the coin. First of all, if Christie passes and Obama does tank, then Mitt Romney is president and he has a vice president (who is almost certainly not going to be Christie; it was going to be a conservative favorite), and who knows when the next open nomination opportunity might be?
Then there's the possibility that the economy keeps Obama afloat through 2012 and then really gets going after that, putting the Democrats in excellent position for 2016. John refers to Gary Jacobson on strategic politicians, and rightly so, but waiting for a shot at a House seat is a lot different from strategic choices for presidential elections -- there are just far fewer opportunities.
And that's also true on the nomination side. If it's really true that Republican party actors were ready to ditch Romney for Christie and he therefore had an excellent chance for the nomination, it may turn out to have been by far his best shot at that prize. And he could have known that in 2011, too. A significant feature of the 2012 cycle for Republicans is that thanks to Democratic landslides in 2006 and 2008 followed by a Republican landslide in 2010, there were a surprisingly small number of potential Republican candidates with conventional credentials in 2012 -- but an unusually large number who were on track to have those credentials for 2016. That's something that a strategic politician needed to take into account, too.
I'm really not convinced that Christie had much of a chance at the nomination. John is reacting to an anecdote from the new Dan Balz book, that (as David Lauter puts it) "Republican notables, including Henry Kissinger, Nancy Reagan and some of the nation's wealthiest businessmen" were trying to get Christie to run. Okay, I haven't read Balz, but: meh. If Kissinger is one of the big names recruiting you...well, ever, but certainly in 2012, then you really don't have much. It's not at all clear that Nancy Reagan has had any significant independent clout within the GOP for some time now. As for those "wealthiest businessmen," if they aren't important players within the party, then I'm not sure why we should be so impressed by them. Even if they were ready to open their checkbooks.
What I actually think Christie shows is, in part, how conventional credentials work. Christie gets elected in 2009; unless he's ready and willing to run right out of the box, he's getting a very late start. Was it possible? Maybe. But surely it wasn't for those elected in 2010. By the time they could have got started, too many people had made too many commitments. And it's very possible that was the case for the class of '09, too.
But if he really had an inside track to the nomination...I'm not even sure I would have advised against going for the 1984, 1972, and 1964 nominations for out-party prospective candidates. I definitely would not have advised Christie against a run on the basis that Obama was a small, but solid, favorite.