The slow and continuing demise of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey as a viable 2016 presidential contender is leaving a significant void where a front-runner once stood. Who steps in to fill it will depend on many factors, but a number of Republicans have much to gain by riding out the Christie media storm.
Conventional wisdom for many months put the collective hive mind (and wallet) of the Republican Party behind Christie. Christie was charismatic, combative, and could beat Hillary Clinton in the polls. How long ago those halcyon days feel, as both state and federal governments investigate him for transgressions not just limited to the George Washington Bridge but to his potential mishandling of funds for Hurricane Sandy.
The weight of support of the greater Republican Party could now fall to a host of characters for different reasons. Republican donors could look to fill the void Christie leaves and find someone with an equally boisterous but charming personality, or someone with a similarly moderate political ideology, or a Republican who has proven to weather a political storm and come back from it with reputation intact. Or it could go for something else entirely, fleeing the pitfalls of a Christie-esque candidate: someone with a low-key personality or more radically conservative ideology. Five big names stand to gain momentum and support out of this, and for very different reasons.
1. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (Kentucky)
Senator Rand Paul has been a favorite at the top of the 2016 contender lists since his filibuster opposing national security overreach by the Obama administration early last year. He enters the race already a frontrunner–at worst, the #2 to Christie’s frontrunner status–and is possessed of a unique and bold personality and ideology that will stand out against any Republican in any debate. He has the most credibility on foreign relations issues of all the candidates as far as civil libertarians are concerned, and domestically he has exhibited a wisdom in campaigning that could lead him to put up a good fight in the general election. His focus on Detroit as a prime location for Republican outreach shows a 50-state mentality that this economically distraught country wants from a president. And having been on the opposite end of a feud with Christie, he has proven he can challenge the loudest candidate in the race.
2. Gov. Scott Walker (Wisconsin)
While Rand Paul brings to the table a world of economic and foreign relations expertise rivaled only by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in the Republican camp, he lacks one thing that many voters want in a candidate, especially after the tenure of President Obama: executive experience. Gov. Scott Walker has that in spades. Walker did in Wisconsin what Gov. Christie brayed about for years while doing little other than yelling at teachers: enact substantive union reform against a loud cabal of far-left union bosses. He offers all of Christie’s walk with none of the talk, and while Democrats might attack him for not having “charisma” (to Democrats, Republicans are either “boring,” “bullies,” or “nuts,” and nothing in between), his resume speaks for itself.
3. Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida)
Senator Rubio was once, like Christie just two weeks ago, crowned by the mainstream media the “savior” of the Republican Party. And then he infamously drank water in the middle of an address and said that it must be difficult to be the child of an illegal immigrant. It wasn’t exactly Bridgegate–and that is a good thing–but it was enough for the Tea Party base to cast a skeptical look at what Sen. Rubio was up to. But the Senator put his head down, went back to work, and is now making headlines again for opposing Democratic wasteful spending in Washington and changing the conversation from any number of media distractions to the fact that Democrats have failed the poor. The new front he has opened on the War on Poverty aligns well with Sen. Paul’s attempts to turn Detroit red, and the fact that conservatives are once again listening demonstrates that Sen. Rubio knows how to deal with a popularity downturn and come back swinging.
4. Donald Trump (New York, Miami, Waikiki)
What can be said about Donald Trump as a presidential contender that already hasn’t been said? No one lights up the media with more ease than Trump by merely showing up to New Hampshire. Much as everyone covering the 2016 race groans about Trump never actually hopping into the race, they breathlessly cover him anyway, because there is an obvious mass appeal to what he does. Part of that appeal is Trump’s attitude– which could rightfully be compared to Christie’s on many occasions. Trump is seen as honest, sometimes brutally so, and a man who gets things done. If you were looking to vote for Christie but need someone with more experience as an executive and fewer corruption scandals, Trump might just be your man.
5. Gov. Susana Martínez (New Mexico)
Governor Martínez is a dark horse candidate and not exactly the biggest name to light up the media when it comes to potential general election candidates in 2016. She herself has denied that she will run, and speculation has soared that she would be Christie’s vice presidential pick. But for those looking to find the closest thing to Gov. Christie, it is difficult to get much closer than Martínez. The New Mexico governor shares a moderate ideology while still hammering Democrats for their homogenous view of Latinos and other minorities. She has backed Christie on the campaign trail despite disagreeing on some issues, namely her being staunchly anti-privileges for illegal immigrants (driver’s licenses, etc.). And if Democrats were planning on playing the sexist card against whoever wins the nomination, they will have a much harder time against Martínez than, say, Christie. Plus, what Republican would vote against a candidate who signed a tax break law known as the “Breaking Bad Bill“?