The New Jersey governor's decision signals an end to the silly and embarrassing series of attempts to recruit a new GOP dreamboat
The Chris Christie boomlet is over. Now, let's get down to business and have a campaign.
There are just three months to go before the first primaries of 2012. It's time, Republicans say, to end the Groundhog Day-like cycle of potential candidate flirtations that's been a constant sideshow to the primary thus far.
For practical reasons, for strategic reasons and for appearances' sake, the GOP is ruefully acknowledging that there will be no more entrants to the presidential primary.
"If Christie is out, the train has left the station and anyone who could be aboard will be aboard," said Mark McKinnon, a former campaign adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain. "Most of the people who were excited about the prospect of a Christie candidacy will find another candidate, though they won't be excited about it."
It's no secret why the cycle kept repeating. Neither the GOP establishment nor the activist grassroots has fallen in deep and lasting love with any of the current candidates, so they keep looking elsewhere. But now, there are hard realities bringing the party's choices into focus.
On the practical side, filing deadlines are fast approaching for the first primaries and caucuses, and you can't win an election if you're not on the ballot. The primaries themselves have crept up the calendar since Florida's decision last week to hold its contest on Jan. 31. Most now expect the Iowa caucuses to happen right after New Year's, on Jan. 2 or 3.
"With the new calendar, there is no time for anyone to get in short of a billionaire," said Republican consultant Mary Matalin. GOP voters, she added, "are going to have to accept the reality that good doesn't mean perfect. It's always a leap of faith."
There are also the more nebulous, but no less necessary, strategic steps needed to mount a campaign: fundraising, staffing and organization.
"It's very difficult at this stage to pull a national campaign together," said former Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy, who is supporting Rick Perry. "Your margin of error, your ability to fundraise and recruit, it's all more of a challenge."
Healy said Perry's relatively late entry -- he announced his campaign in mid-August -- has created obstacles for the Texas governor's campaign. "I'll admit that even for Governor Perry, his missteps have been amplified and exacerbated because of the schedule," Healy said. "You have less of an ability to move on" -- from a damaging revelation or a weak debate performance, for example -- "and let those missteps fade away into the past."
And then there's the question of how this all looks to the voting public. The more top GOP figures voice their displeasure with their choices, the more the idea permeates public opinion that the Republican candidates challenging President Obama are no prize. It's unseemly and a bit embarrassing to be constantly chasing other prospects while an array of distinguished politicians, all of whom have said they would like nothing better than to be the nominee, stand there on the debate stage like chopped liver.