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GOP plays musical chairs

GOP plays musical chairs

Posted: Friday, October 7, 2011 7:02 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — The GOP’s game of musical chairs continues, but unlike the children’s game where the person without a seat is out, the last candidate standing will be the winner. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the latest player. He walked around the chairs, and when the music stopped, he walked away. At least he didn’t string the media along the way Donald Trump did, or the way Sarah Palin continues to do, treating a potential presidential run like an audition for a reality show.
Christie took a hardheaded look at the mechanics of getting into the race at this late date, and concluded he wasn’t ready to take on the challenge despite the clamor for his candidacy. The track record for late entering dream candidacies has not been good. Gen.Wesley Clark flamed out for the Democrats in 2004; Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson did the same for the Republicans 2008.
We have to go back to 1940 when Wendell Willkie won the Republican nomination on the sixth ballot. Willkie Clubs had sprung up around the country, and the charismatic businessman surprised everyone with the strength he was able to muster at the Convention. Republicans have always liked the idea of a businessman as their standard bearer rather than a politician, and Herman Cain’s candidacy got a boost with his surprise win of the Florida straw poll last month.
Cain’s 9-9-9 economic proposals to dramatically cut taxes on investment and personal income taxes goes farther than any of the other candidates, and demonstrates a flair for marketing honed perhaps when he headed Godfather’s Pizza. He is still standing.
Christie recognized the pitfalls ahead for a candidate who is not prepared for the scrutiny of a national campaign. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is exhibit A for what can go wrong, and while Perry remains a viable candidate, his path to the nomination is far more challenging than he and his supporters could have imagined during those early heady days after he first announced. Still standing, but on his knees.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the big winner in the wake of Christie’s decision, and Romney would have come out ahead even if Christie had decided to run.
Romney has spent the last four years preparing for this race. He studied what went wrong in his 2008 run, and is measurably better in every way, from his debating skills to handling the stump.
If Christie had jumped into the primaries, Romney would have been there waiting to trip up the thin-skinned New Jersey governor, provoking him into a display of temper with charges of cronyism. Christie is vulnerable to charges of conflict of interest for rewarding his friends and bullying his enemies.
Now Romney will be courting Christie for his endorsement, and he’s likely to get it sooner rather than later. Romney is the GOP’s best bet to defeat President Obama, and the more Christie does to help Romney secure the nomination the more he will nail down his own prospects for getting a prime time speaking slot at the GOP convention in Tampa.
Christie is thinking about 2016 or 2020, and a star turn at the Convention could launch his future candidacy in the same way Barack Obama’s “One America” speech vaulted him into the presidential sweepstakes.
Meanwhile, Republicans are going to have to settle down and realize there are no more knights in shining armor waiting to rescue them from the malaise they feel about Romney, or their disappointment in Perry.
By bowing out of the race, Christie signaled the end of the anybody-but-Romney movement. There is an old saying that Republicans fall in line; Democrats fall in love. The GOP just got stood up again, and now the party faithful will do what they always do — love the one they’re with. Romney is standing tall. Published in The Messenger 10.7.11

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