Now it’s Chris Christie’s turn as the new unRomney.
With Rick Perry stumbling badly in the recent presidential debates, Republican operatives and the base are looking around for another anyone-but-Romney stand-in.
This is the GOP dilemma: The party appears saddled with a candidate – Romney – the faithful fear is not conservative enough and operatives and big donors believe is inauthentic. The seeming inevitability of Romney periodically forces Republicans to cast about for another unRomney, luring new candidates into the race.
First, it was Michelle Bachmann, who rose quickly in the polls, then plummeted even faster. Following Bachmann, Rick Perry saw his opening, jumping to an immediate lead in the polls. The inability of any Romney challenger to show staying power has fed rumors Sarah Palin is about to enter the race or that Rudy Giuliani or some other candidate is considering a run.
The Republican field has narrowed to two candidates, but they’re not Romney and Perry. The two candidates are Romney and a conservative, any conservative, anyone not named Romney. That’s why Bachmann rose quickly a few months ago and why Perry led in the polls even before he announced his candidacy.
The Republican base was responding not to Perry per se, but to the idea of Perry – a brash, tough-talking Texan who swaggers and exhibits a hard-hitting conservatism. Never mind the reality; the imaginary Perry was good enough.
Except that he is not good enough. Perry is inarticulate (try following some of his more extended responses in the recent debates) and, surprisingly, not conservative enough, at least on some issues. The result is a freefall in the polls, with the latest poll showing him at 19%, four points behind Romney and only two ahead of Herman Cain.
So now it’s Chris Christie’s turn, or at least the idea of Chris Christie.
There are problems with Chris Christie. For one thing, he has insisted many times that he is not running. That is not in itself a problem, except that he has also said repeatedly he is not ready to be president. If he were not ready last week, why is he ready this week?
The other problem – the problem that plagues all the flavors of the month – is that most Republicans really don’t know very much about Chris Christie.
As governor of New Jersey, a blue state, Christie is a moderate on global warming, civil unions, and gun control. Those positions may have helped him win in New Jersey, but they are not likely to play well with Republican caucus goers in Iowa and primary voters in South Carolina.
There is also his famously short fuse, which may make him appear authentic to some in the short run, but which is likely to anger many voters over the long haul.
Republicans may be enamored with Christie today, but will they still love him tomorrow?