George Will is picky when it comes to presidential candidates. A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post columnist stopped by Laura Ingraham’s radio program and predicted that Jeb Bush would not run for the White House in 2016, explaining that he was far too much of an “establishment” candidate. Bush “has four strikes against him,” Will said. “His last name, Common Core, immigration, on which I happen to agree with him ... but fourth he will come into the race with a huge bullseye on his back that says ‘Establishment Choice’ and the base is going to say ‘well, we know who we’re not for.’”
Okay so if Jeb Bush is too “establishment,” then who does George Will envision picking up the Republican standard and leading the party to victory? The answer, somehow, is Chris Christie.
Will slapped together a column this morning hyping a potential Christie run in 2016, writing that Christie “radiates serenity,” pairs “occasional pugnacity” with a “sedate, diplomatic manner,” and is a “zestful political combatant.” Perhaps most significantly, Will speculates that candidate Christie could make the quadrennial Republican pipe dream of winning Pennsylvania a reality, based solely on the fact that Christie advertised in the Philly media market during his runs for governor (Philadelphia is just across the Delaware River from Camden).
It’s not immediately clear to me how Christie escapes the taint of establishment preference while Jeb Bush does not. Christie was the establishment favorite heading into 2014, before the George Washington Bridge scandal threw him into crisis mode. Just like Jeb Bush, Christie supports immigration reform (though he’s doing his damnedest to hide it these days) and signed into law a state-level version of the DREAM Act. On Common Core, Will notes that Christie may be trying to ease himself away from his support for the educational initiative that conservatives hate, but an uncertain half-measure on Christie’s part won’t undo his long record of Common Core advocacy.
So yeah, Christie would be an establishment candidate. But that’s not even his biggest problem. The New Jersey economy has been a stumbling mess under Christie’s stewardship: slow job growth, home foreclosures, falling incomes, increasing poverty, yawning budget shortfalls, and a crisis over pension funding that Christie seems to be making deliberately worse. His approval rating has tanked over the past year.
George Will just breezed right past all of this. Here’s all he had to say about Christie’s economic record:
He is a pro-life governor elected twice in a deep-blue state to which he has delivered $2.35 billion in tax cuts and in which the government budget is now less in real dollars than it was in fiscal 2008.
Will’s column is partly a reflection of the general trend among pundits to confuse Christie’s swaggering bombast for leadership (Christie “exudes executive authority,” Will writes). But it’s also pretty clear indicator of the terrible choice facing the Republican establishment heading into 2016. Which badly flawed candidate do they line up behind? Jeb Bush, as Will observed, has one of the most toxic surnames in politics, and every conservative in America hates him because he’s not openly hostile toward immigrants. Christie’s no different on that score, and he also has a poor economic record and is mired in scandal, but he yells at people and isn’t named Bush, so maybe he’ll do.