(Stop) Waiting for Chris Christie

By James Fallows

You hate to point out things that should not need explanation, but for the record:

1) The grass is always greener. Many Republicans are crossing their fingers and saying their prayers that Chris Christie will "save them" by deigning to enter the race. Many Republicans, including some of the same people, were praying two months ago that Rick Perry would save them. Before that, some of them wished that Jon Huntsman would save them. Whatever Christie does, some will starting yearning for Paul Ryan to save them. Or Jeb Bush. Or Mitch Daniels. Or whatever other name I am forgetting just now.

Here's the truth. In modern politics, "savior" candidates are never again as popular as they are the day before they announce. To start down the list of reasons: Neither opposing candidates nor the press can unleash all-out hostile-investigative scrutiny on a mere "potential" candidate. But the instant the candidate declares, anything goes. A teasing, courted candidate in "will he or won't he?" mode -- Chris Christie, as of this moment -- spends all day every day being told how great he is. A real candidate spends all day begging for money; facing the risk of errors; and knowing the certainty of making enemies and giving offense. The errors come from debates, press ops, responses to criticism. The offense comes from having to choose sides on policy issues that a non-candidate can ignore or finesse.

The dynamics of this race are obvious. Mitt Romney plods ahead. A lot of people in "the base" are unhappy with him. No one is rapturous about him. He might not win -- either the nomination or the presidency.* But with every passing day the odds are more strongly in his favor as the nominee. And the last thing he needs to worry about is the Chris-Christie-ex-machina scenario, or whatever imagined savior comes after that.

(* Romney plods ahead -- as John Kerry did in 2004, and Bob Dole in 1996, and Walter Mondale in 1984. No presidential cycle is exactly like any other. But those were three races with structural similarities to this year's -- with a potentially vulnerable president challenged after one term, and with the "out" party led by a candidate whose support was tepid rather than passionate but who overall had a certain logic and inevitability. Those comparisons -- in which the incumbent stayed on, by a hair in 2004 and by huge margins the other times -- also don't guarantee that Obama will win. The whole point of the exercise is the folly of playing the "waiting for the messiah" game. For better or worse, as in those other years, the Republican nominee is almost certainly one of the people already on stage.)

On another front:

2) Historic Missed Opportunity. In the New Republic John Judis does the clearest job yet of explaining how the U.S. could have put itself on the right side of history, its own ideals, and the prospects of a peaceful two-state solution in the Middle East by supporting rather than opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN. In so doing, as Judis argues, President Obama would also have better matched his campaign-era and Nobel Peace Prize-era identity as the man who can cast old problems in a new light.

By the time Obama writes his memoirs, he is going to wonder how he got himself in the position of defending such a crabbed outlook. Maybe long before that. This is not my normal beat, and I recognize how contentious the issue is. But I actually was at Camp David, as an underling, when Jimmy Carter persuaded Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin to take a giant step away from the narrowest conceptions of their national interest, and toward the long-term good of their people and the region. It is depressing to see an American president and American policy ending up on the narrow and short-sighted rather than broad and far-seeing side of this debate, as Judis lays out very well.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/09/-stop-waiting-for-chris-christie/245812/