William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.
Gov. Chris Christie has nothing to lose by entering the presidential race. His poll numbers have collapsed, his national star has risen and fallen, and he's term-limited as governor of New Jersey.
So, why not join the presidential circus?
Having nothing to lose can be a wonderful political opportunity, and one senses that Christie gets that. In his recent speeches, he's talked bluntly about important third-rail issues like Social Security and Medicare reform, topics no viable candidate wants to touch with an 11-foot pole. Christie can talk about them because his candidacy isn't viable at this point. That's a gift, in a way.OpinionCartoonists on Chris ChristieMore coverageOpinion and analysis about the 2016 presidential campaign
Christie's brand is bluntness. It made him an instant national figure. And almost as quickly, it took him down. Christie the Candid was appealing when he would call out hecklers in a crowd, but when he began having confrontations with everyday citizens, Christie the Candid began looking like Christie the Unhinged.
At the height of his ascent, Christie was arguably the most popular Republican in America. That didn't last long, either. Christie soon got known in GOP circles as someone who doesn't play well with others. He became known as narcissistic.
Nowhere was that characterization on greater public display than at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. I was in the room when his nominating speech for former Gov. Mitt Romney began, and I recall thinking just how good Christie can be when he's on. But within a minute or two, it became clear that the speech was all about him. He barely mentioned Romney. Everyone in the room, and in living rooms nationally, noticed. It was impossible not to.
Soon after, insider stories started circulating about Christie the Prima Donna, demanding certain airplanes and luxury hotel suites when he traveled for other candidates. Most campaigns are on shoestring budgets, and conditions like that for appearances are considered bad form. Insider Republicans started disliking Christie, and saying so openly. Christie's public embrace of President Barack Obama in the wake of superstorm Sandy, a week before Election Day in 2012, didn't change their opinions. Grumblings about him intensified.
I got to see the unfortunate side of Christie up close in 2014. During a sit-down in Phoenix, he had encouraged Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a client of mine, to run for governor of New York. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie's job was to recruit and help elect GOP governors nationwide.
But later, Christie the Machiavellian made himself known. The RGA chairman began undermining the Republican candidate for governor of New York. Christie went so far as to say that the RGA did not invest in "lost causes," months before the actual election. It devastated fundraising. Potential funders told me that "Christie people" urged them not to donate to Astorino's campaign. It was weird behavior to say the least.
The New Jersey governor has other problems to contend with. There are fiscal issues in his state, and the Bridgegate scandal never seems to go away. But Christie is smart enough to know that moss will eventually shake itself from a rolling stone. And so he moves forward.
The only way to do that is with his trademark bluntness. He has nothing else of value to bring to the table at this point. But if he uses that candor to air issues no one else will, Christie can make himself politically relevant again. He probably won't win, but, at 52, he'll once more have a future.
That's what he's really after.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.