Jersey boy buzz

    Chris (“I don’t gotta be nice to you”) Christie appears to be the Republicans’ flavor of the month. There hasn’t been this much buzz about a bulky Jersey guy since Tony Soprano.Every time the Garden State guv denies interest in a presidential bid, his stock goes up among Republican grassrooters. Every time he talks tough about the teachers’ unions, he burnishes his celebrity sheen. His plain-spoken rants are already a big hit on YouTube. And now that he’s into a weight-loss program (in order to be fit for a national race?), and now that his political mentor is dropping hints about forming a national fundraising committee (in order to finance a national race?), the Christie buzz seems likely to spike again. Last I checked, Christie was running fifth in the early polls of likely Republican primary voters – an impressive showing, given the fact that the top four (Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Gingrich) have long attained universal name ID.In one sense, the national intraparty buzz is ridicuously premature; after all, Christie has governed his state for all of one year, and he could wind up being savaged by the ever-changeable Jersey voters once the downside of his state budget austerity finally hits home. Jersey suburbanites hate their high local property taxes, and Christie’s policies may well push them higher. Already, he’s barely scoring 50 percent approval in his own backyard.On the other hand, the national boomlet is easily explainable. From the perspective of likely Republican primary voters, Christie looks so alluring because the rest of the field is laden with baggage. To wit:1. Mitt Romney is a pragmatic country-club Republican who masquerades as a pitchfork conservative, and conservative voters know it. (In the priceless words of Mike Huckabee, Romney was “anything but conservative until he changed the light bulbs in his chandelier in time to run for president” in 2008.) Plus, Romney’s Mormon faith alienates a lot of the Christian conservatives who vote heavily in Iowa and South Carolina. Plus, he’s stuck trying to explain how his Massachusetts health-care reform law differs from the new federal law that the Republican base despises. 2. Mike Huckabee alienates a lot of fiscally conservative voters, because he frequently raised taxes as governor of Arkansas, and it is Republican dictum that one shalt never raise taxes.3. Sarah Palin is faring poorly in the polls that measure grassroots Republican sentiment, because even her fans don’t think she’s electable. Her situation is roughly akin to Howard Dean’s on the eve of the ’04 Democratic primaries: Dean was popular among many grassroots Democrats, but the Iowans dumped him on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, because they didn’t think he could win the autumn election. (I was there. That’s what they told me.)4. Newt Gingrich, who peaked politically circa 1995, still clings to his reputation as the GOP’s big brain. But he’s thrice-married, which turns off many social and religious conservatives. Witness Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn, who said last fall that Newt is “the last person I’d vote for, for president” because “he doesn’t know anything about commitment to marriage” and therefore lacks “the character traits necessary to be a great president.” And Newt doesn’t seem electable, either; in swing-state New Hampshire, a new non-partisan poll shows President Obama beating Newt by 23 percentage points.5. Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, worked for years as the consummate Washington insider-lobbyist. Grassroots Republicans are instinctively turned off by Washington insider-lobbyists.6. Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, turned off religious conservatives and Rush Limbaugh a few weeks ago when he argued in a speech that Republicans should deemphasize the divisive cultural issues. He said there should be a “truce” on such issues, thereby angering the moral purists who equate a truce with surrender. Also, fiscal conservatives remember Daniels’ stint as George W. Bush’s budget director; on Daniels’ watch, the budget went from a $236-billion surplus to a $400-billion deficit. And here’s a Daniels quote from ’03 that would come back to bite him in the butt during primary season: “A balanced budget is a high priority for this administratin; it is not the top or the only priority.”7. Tim Pawlenty, the ex-governor of Minnesota, has the charisma of powdered milk. When an exemplar of Minnesota Nice tries to do angry, it’s almost painful to watch. When he declared last year that “we should take a nine-iron to the back windshield of big government spending,” even the conservatives in attendance knew he was pandering. This year, he says that “if you look at the top leaders of the Republican party, I’m at least in range on the excitement meter.” He’s right, which flatters neither him nor the top leaders.8. John Thune is Hollywood handsome, but primary season conservatives would remember that the South Dakota senator voted for the ’08 bank bailout. The base still hates the bank bailout. Thune’s rivals would tell the base, “Thune voted to give your money to the big banks.” Plus, Thune has a track record of voting for earmarks. (Plus, Thune announced at noon today that he’s not running for president anyway.)

    9. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and current ambassador to China, is reportedly bulking up for a possible GOP bid. Surely he jests. What are the odds that the Republican base would nominate a guy with a moderate record on immigration, gay rights, and the environment? A guy who once complained that Obama’s economic stimulus was “too small?” A guy who indeed has spent the past couple years working for, and being accountable to, The Other?Given that roster, it’s no wonder Christie tantalizes. The hitch, of course, is that the buzz is always best before the battle. He will never appear as pristine as he does right now. Who could blame him for taking a pass?

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