There’s much talk about Chris Christie as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 (yes, already). Christie is certainly gearing up for a run, and has begun by attacking potential GOP rivals. But while moderate Republicans like Christie for 2016, he is their version of what Rick Perry was for conservatives in the 2012 race: a locally successful governor whose attributes will not stand up well on the national stage.
Perry had much to recommend him as a national contender: staunch conservatism on most policy issues, and an economic record that even liberals would find attractive. But his Texas swagger translated poorly once he entered the race, especially for an electorate still weary of the folksy mannerisms and frontier rhetoric of the Bush years, which came to be identified–largely unfairly–with cronyism, aggression and incompetence.
Likewise with Christie’s New Jersey attitude. His willingness to stand up to greedy unions–especially the teachers’ union–endeared him to conservatives. But his tough-guy routine is less attractive when deployed against opponents. While oddly deferential to President Barack Obama during Hurricane Sandy, he shows little tolerance for dissent, even when he is clearly in the wrong. That may play well in Trenton; it won’t, elsewhere.
There is no clear leader in the Republican pack, though there is plenty of talent in the field. The Democrats have the opposite problem: a clear favorite in Hillary Clinton, and almost no one else with any credibility or a record to recommend them. Better to have the former problem than the latter, while the future political and ideological direction of the GOP remains contested. Who knows which new leaders may emerge in the near future?