5 Ways Chris Christie Can Still Affect the Presidential Race

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He's out of the running for 2012, but his blustery style could come in handy for the GOP even so

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Chris Christie is too major a political figure to fade away after the end of his flirtation with 2012. But how can the Republican star keep shining as the attention moves to the rest of the field, the eventual GOP nominee and the coming battle with Barack Obama? Here are five roles Christie can play that would keep -- and even expand -- his influence.

1. Endorser. The fastest way to make his influence felt would be to support a presidential candidate tomorrow. After all, the governor is probably one of the hottest interviews out there today (people are listening), and his potential supporters need someone else to vote for. An endorsement could be potent: Only a few percentage points separate the leading candidates in some surveys, so no advantage would be too small for any one of them.

However, Christie is unlikely to support someone now, as he said during his press conference Tuesday. Doing so would eliminate the suspense that could keep him in the press from now until 2012 as speculation mounts about who he'll back. Moreover, if Christie makes an early pick of a candidate who goes on to lose, he'll lose a valuable connection to the possible future president of the United States. There will come a time when his endorsement could have an even more powerful effect on the race, and that will be the right time to give it.

2. Cheerleader. Whoever wins the first decisive primaries is unlikely to have a majority of support among Republican primary voters nationwide. Christie could help convince voters that remain -- especially those on the tea party right -- to back someone who they might otherwise look askance at, like Mitt Romney. Christie can be a powerful surrogate for the eventual nominee in the northeast, and nationwide.

3. Attack Dog. Is there anyone who is better at hitting Obama in a way that fires up conservatives and doesn't alienate moderates? Probably not. Christie's critique that Obama has failed the leadership test feeds into moderate disillusion with the president and right-wing hatred of a man they think is too weak to be sitting in the Oval Office. When the GOP nominee needs someone to bring the red meat, Christie knows where the butcher shop is.

4. Fundraiser. Some big-time donors were keeping their wallets shut until Christie decided whether or not to run, while others in early primary states like Iowa were pushing him to run. Clearly there was some money earmarked for Christie 2012. Where would Christie suggest they invest now? The governor's secret endorsement to Republican moneymen may be more important than any public statement he could make.

In addition, Christie could help raise money for Republicans up and down the ballot while he stumps around the country. A lot of people will pay good money to hear him rip Obama.

5. Truth-Teller. If Christie ever tried to be a cookie-cutter Republican, he'd forgo the maverick-like image that's endeared him to many members of the press and helped him win in blue New Jersey. By occasionally tweaking the GOP or saying he's to the left on gun control or immigration, Christie would maintain his credibility as a politician who isn't an ideologue, and also showcase the Republican Party's somewhat dusty big tent credentials.

All five of these roles should come naturally to Christie. After all, his blustery style and decisive management moves created a groundswell of support for a White House bid and increased his national profile. There's no reason he can't stay at that new level now that he's chosen not to twist himself up by running for president.

Image credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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Justin Miller was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 to 2011. He is now the homepage editor at New York magazine. More

Justin Miller was a associate editor at The Atlantic. Previously he was an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics, a political reporter in Ohio, and a freelance journalist.
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