It is plain that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie thinks that his path to the White House lies in plying the middle ground between conservatives and moderates and presenting himself as the man who can appeal to all political factions. But, so far at least, it seems he is failing to excite much interest in the idea.
Christie already suffers among conservatives. He is knocked by many on the right side of the political equation for not being conservative enough and Christie understands this criticism all too well. In fact, he felt the need to address this perception during his speech this month at Congressman Steve King’s Freedom Summit in Iowa.
Last weekend the New Jersey Governor told the conservative crowd that he is plenty conservative enough to deserve consideration by even the most conservative voter. Then he laid out his bona fides in an attempt to make his case.
Let’s just say he was received with polite applause but not many minds were changed.
Christie, though, gamely tried to give conservatives an out for their dislike of his policies by attempting to massage the gulf between himself and conservatives as only a fiction created by “the conventional wisdom from Washington D.C.”
“It’s the conventional wisdom from Washington D.C. that argues that a conservative Republican governor from New Jersey can’t possibly share the same values with conservative Republican here in Iowa,” he said.
“They were wrong every time they’ve said it over the last five years and from your welcome today, they’re wrong again today.”
This is a nice bit of artifice. It isn’t the elite in Washington saying that Christie can’t be the candidate for conservatives. It is the conservatives themselves saying that!
But during his speech he also went on to claim that he offered the best of both worlds: conservative and moderate at the same time. He warned those in attendance that if the GOP doesn’t reach out to the left and attempt to craft a message and offer a candidate that can appeal to the left then the GOP could never win.
The Governor then went on to point out that he has been able to lead “as a conservative” in New Jersey, one of the bluest states in the country. He set himself up as a man for all seasons, a man who can appeal not only to the right and the middle but also to the left. His record, he said, proved that.
Speaking of the “conventional wisdom, Christie’s appeal is the epitome of the claim that a conservative can never win.
But this appeal is not working for Christie, at least according to statistician Harry Enten.
Enten wrote a piece for FiveThirtyEight noting that Christie is way, way out of position to become either the next nominee for the Republican Party or the next president and that his path to the White House is cloudy at best.
As Enten has it, “Since 1980, two types of candidates have won presidential nominations when an incumbent president wasn’t running in their party: those who were unfamiliar to voters early in the campaign, and those who were both well known and well liked.”
But Christie suffers in both areas, Enten says. “Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is well known but not particularly well liked,” he said.
Enten’s data went on to show that Christie’s stats are nowhere near optimal to be expected to take the GOP nomination or enter the White House. Worse for Christie most of the rest of the possible nominees fall perfectly in line with past candidates putting them all in stronger positions than Christie.
Certainly statistics can never predict everything that happens in politics. Once in a while it is utterly unpredictable. On the other hand, statistics often serve to describe what is likely to happen and if the past is any indication, Christie’s chances of gaining the GOP nomination are few.
Christie’s “middle” way politics just won’t get him into the White House. It certainly won’t get him past a GOP primary.