Do Chris Christie’s problems make it more likely that Rand Paul will be GOP nominee in 2016?
I’m not sure I agree with Peter Beinart on THIS MATTER, but his argument is worth considering:
If Chris Christie was ever the frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he isn’t anymore. All along, the theory behind his candidacy was that he could overcome his lack of conservative bona fides with a combination of personality, competence, electability, and money. Bridgegate undermines all four.
In the minds of many voters, Christie’s personality has morphed from brash to bully. It’s harder to look competent when your top aides egregiously abused power under your nose. Christie’s supposed electability was based partly on polls showing that he was the only potential Republican nominee running even with Hillary Clinton. But Marist and Quinnipiac, whose surveys showed Clinton and Christie virtually tied in December, now show him trailing her by 13 and 8 points, respectively. The electability argument also depended on Christie’s supposed success in bringing New Jerseyans together across party lines, a harder claim now that Democrats in the state legislature are talking impeachment. And as Christie’s electability erodes, so will his vaunted support among GOP moneymen…
So if Christie is no longer the candidate to beat in the 2016 Republican race, who is? Believe it or not, it’s Rand Paul.
To understand the Kentucky senator’s hidden strength, it’s worth remembering this basic fact about the modern GOP: It almost never nominates first-time candidates. Since 1980, George W. Bush is the only first-timer to win a Republican nomination. And since Bush used the political network his father built, he enjoyed many of the benefits of someone who had run before. It’s the same with Paul. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, he begins with an unparalleled infrastructure left over from his father Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
If Paul is, arguably, the early leader in Iowa, he may be the early frontrunner in New Hampshire as well. While Ron Paul placed third in Iowa in 2012, he placed second in New Hampshire, losing only to Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts and a national frontrunner with a vast financial edge. Even before Bridgegate, Christie would have struggled to match Romney’s success. Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, notes that in 2012 Romney had two advantages that Christie won’t have this time around. First, he had a preexisting network in the state, built during his 2008 run. Second, since he was no longer a sitting governor, he had virtually unlimited time to campaign…
Yes, it’s absurdly early. But Paul looks like a better bet than anyone else to finish in the top two in both Iowa and New Hampshire. If he did, he’d establish himself as the leading anti-establishment candidate in the GOP field.
Of course, the more early success Paul enjoyed, the more fervently some GOP elites—unnerved by his anti-interventionist foreign-policy views and potential weakness in a general election—would rally around someone else. Such efforts have worked in the past. In recent years, the candidates favored by the Republican establishment—Bush in 2000, John McCain in 2008, Romney in 2012—have used their massive financial advantage to overwhelm insurgents in the multiple-state contests that begin around February. Pre-Bridgegate, it was easier to imagine Christie doing the same than it is now. But regardless, Rand Paul will not be financially defenseless…
With his “Stand with Rand” fundraising campaign last May, launched to capitalize on his anti-drone filibuster, Rand Paul has already shown himself able to generate the media frenzy necessary to rake in bucks online. And he may even prove able to make inroads among the GOP big-money elite…
If there’s one thing that could obviate all this, it’s the possibility that Paul could suffer his own candidacy-crippling scandal. He’s already gotten himself into trouble for plagiarism and employing neo-Confederates. Who knows what the media will turn up when the real vetting that greets a presidential candidate begins?
But even taking that possibility into account, Paul is in a stronger position than many in the media recognize. On issues from NSA surveillance to drug legalization to gay marriage, the GOP is moving in his direction. For his part, Paul is gaining acceptance within the Republican mainstream. It’s just possible that 2016 could be another 1964 or 1980, years when the Republican establishment proved weak and pliable enough to allow a candidate previously considered extreme to come in from the cold.
There’s no way of knowing at this point, of course. But political commentators are making a big mistake if they disregard the chance.