Even after weeks of fevered divination and his September Sermon on the Mount at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, it should surprise no one that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie isn’t running for President. His past statements were definitive even for the realm of politics, where a denial is sometimes just the first flirtatious glance of the courting process. “Short of suicide, I don’t really know what I’d have to do to convince you people that I’m not running,” he told reporters last November, one of countless abnegations he’s issued since becoming a conservative star known for shouting down critics at town hall meetings and posting the confrontations on YouTube. “I’m not running.”
Powerful Republican donors, still searching for for a messianic figure to follow into 2012, had pushed Christie further toward a bid in recent months, and succeeded in convincing him to reconsider his options–or at least to play coy with a desperately hopeful press corps. But putting an end to the breathless speculation, Christie announced on Tuesday that he would not seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Hours before a hastily called press conference in Trenton, New Jersey, his aides leaked word to various news outlets that the Big Man would (once again) be taking a pass.
“In the end, what I’ve always felt was the right decision remains the right decision today,” he said on Tuesday afternoon, citing his duty to New Jersey and thanking supporters for their encouragement. “Now is not my time.” (Though it may not have been his time to run for President, Christie was clearly interested in dragging out his 15 Minutes; at the press conference, the governor preened himself in front of the cameras of the national press corps for the better part of an hour.)
Christie’s decision not to jump into the presidential race settles one of the last lingering questions about the GOP field. Rick Perry’s August boomlet has died down amid a series of sub-par debate performances and conservative doubts over his record. While Sarah Palin’s supporters remain bullish on the prospects of her last-minute entrance, there’s no indication yet that she’s leaning in that direction. As things stand, that means Perry will remain the primary alternative to establishment default candidate Mitt Romney, with activist favorite and former businessman Herman Cain brushing up against the ceiling of the second tier. And once again, Romney, the perpetual candidate, is proving that he’s every bit as lucky as he is good.
As a northeastern moderate, at least by the standards of today’s Republican party, Christie would have attracted the same kind of voters that Romney is relying upon for his leads in key states like New Hampshire and Florida. And without the albatross of Romney’s Obama-esque health reform or his starch-collar style, Christie could have likely done the only thing Romney’s immaculate, focus group-tested campaign has failed to do: spark heady enthusiasm in the party’s base. He wouldn’t have been a flawless candidate –in fact, the potential downside of his very moderate record in a primary has often been overlooked–but almost every vote he would take would be right out of Mitt Romney’s pocket.
Christie’s final answer leaves a large swath of the GOP electorate with a clearer decision ahead of them. Tim Pawlenty has retired and Jon Huntsman is running his own race against “no opinion/none of the above” in the polls. Romney, meanwhile, has managed to consolidate support of establishment Republicans who hold general election viability at a premium, just as Perry has imploded in front of national audiences and begins to fret over Cain’s rise siphoning his support from the Tea Party set. Even those with no great passion for Romney may now begin to face that fact that they have nowhere else to go.
Updated, 2:06 p.m.