According to a report from Politico’s Maggie Haberman, supporters of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie say he’s still a top tier 2016 hopeful—and their argument for why they believe that to be the case is pretty revealing:
Among the factors they point to: No smoking gun has emerged in Bridgegate. No one has replaced him as the early Republican front-runner in 2016. A big chunk of the Republican establishment remains dead set against Rand Paul. The person most likely to replace Christie as the establishment favorite, Jeb Bush, has receded to the background after a burst of attention this spring. And in his home state, Christie is working on mending fences with fellow Republicans he has feuded with in the past.
Yeah, no smoking gun has emerged in Bridgegate … except that little part about how Christie’s senior aides punished a political foe by causing a traffic jam in his home town and that Christie for months (in the most charitable reading of events) not only failed to recognize what was happening right beneath his nose, but mocked those who pressed for answers until he could no longer pretend that nothing had happened.But Bridgegate aside, the thing that really struck me about the pitch for Christie is that so much of it comes down to pointing out that the GOP’s 2016 field absolutely sucks. The only one they seem afraid of at all is Rand Paul, but when it comes to Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and the rest of the crew, Team Christie is dismissive.
When the traffic scandal broke in January, attention quickly shifted to Bush as the natural alternative to Christie. But after a flurry of headlines, the overt pining for the former Florida governor has died down, mostly because he’s done little to sustain it.“Some days, Jeb’s around and some days, he’s not,” [Home Depot co-founder and Christie supporter Ken] Lagone said of how much he expresses interest.
Christie allies also are aware of the stumbles on immigration reform by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last year, and they believe Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor who has often been touted as the best candidate to unite warring wings of the Republican Party, will emerge too bruised from his reelection battle this year to be seriously in contention.
Even Republicans who don’t support Christie seem to be admitting the GOP has a pretty bad 2016 field, albeit unintentionally. For example:
Without Bridgegate, he “would have been one of the front-runners in New Hampshire,” said Dave Carney, a Granite State operative who was a longtime adviser to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “But he’s back to ‘Go,’ where everyone else is.”
I don’t think Carney was trying to say that the rest of the field is bad, but if the only thing Bridgegate does is level the playing field between Christie and the other candidates, what other conclusion can you draw? If there were any other Republicans with front-runner potential who were serious about running, Chris Christie would have been toast in the wake of Bridgegate. Instead, he’s still making a serious run for it. And thanks to the fact that the GOP has so little talent at the presidential ranks, he probably still has a shot……