My friend Bruce Johnson writes: "I'm more heartened by the 2013 election outcomes than I can remember. Maybe you can post this reflection on your blog and we can look back and see if I am a prophet or a Pollyanna.
"Chris Christie could win the Republican nomination. If he does he not only can win the 2016 election, especially if the Democrats commit harikari by nominating Hillary. Christie can DO what Obama talked about and restore bipartisanship to DC.
"Christie is a pro-life fiscal conservative who believes government can make people's lives better. He wants to make it efficient and fiscally sound. He opposes public sector unions as drains on the taxpayers. I agree. Public sector unionized employees are overpaid compared to their private sector peers and their productivity is lower.
"Christie believes capital gains taxes should be cut. I agree. They discourage investment. They impose a harsh penalty on those of us who sometimes have to sell stock to pay for, say, our childrens' educations or a financial emergency.
"This does not mean that he's blindly anti-tax. He actually raised taxes in New Jersey. He worked with Obama to rebuild his state and praised Obama on the eve of the election for his role. Hispanics love him and he is popular with African-Americans.
"I have no idea where he stands on foreign policy but I assume he would favor the same consensus approach there he brings to domestic politics. He would have to be an improvement in foreign policy over Obama who is becoming a huge national embarrassment with his spying on allies, drone strikes on civilians (unintentional I'm sure) and Orwellian surveillance programs. Not to mention his flip flops on Syria.
"Governor Christie, like Governor Bush of Texas, has achieved his overwhelmingly popular programs to make the Garden State a better place to live with the backing of a state legislature, both of whose houses are controlled by Democratic majorities.
"Meantime, I think 2014 will break the gridlock for BO's lameduck years. The President's incompetence in implementing Obamacare will sink some good centrist Dems but that will be good for the country because Senate Republicans are more centrist than Senate Democrats.
"Meantime revulsion against the Tea Party and shutdown will cost House Republicans their majority in 2014 in spite of the gerrymandering. The House Democrats are leftist but unhampered by a Pelosi equivalent to the Hastert rule; House Dems will play ball with the Senate and the centrist White House. Biden will emerge as a key leader and Obama will belatedly become the unifier he originally hoped to be but the leftist wing of his party will repudiate him and nominate Mrs. Clinton.
"As President, Christie will initiate reforms with bipartisan support and trim the cost of government and might actually restore people's faith in Washington and in Government. My friend Ron Krauss is a Democrat. He agrees."
My Response: Christie Will Have a Hard Time Winning Nomination or Avoiding Third Party Challenge
I do agree that Chris Christie represents the Republicans' best hope of taking the White House in 2016. Ohio Governor John Kasich is also a moderate Republican who could perhaps mount a formidable campaign as well.
Christie will have a big challenge winning the Republican nomination. He's pro gay marriage, pro immigration reform, pro-gun control, trusts the majority of climate scientists on global warming, and New Jersey adopted both Obamacare and Medicaid expansion. On foreign policy, there is no consensus within the GOP, divided between neo-cons who want to bomb Iran and Syria, and isolationists who want the US to withdraw from the world. Christie seems likely to side, as did Bush and Obama, with the intelligence community on spying, and drone strikes. On Syria, btw, Obama's "flip flop," or flexibility, has led to a ban on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government without the threatened bombing by the US. Would Bush or Christie be so flexible as to let Russia take a lead role in negotiating this?
The base of the Republican Party is anti-gay marriage, anti-immigration reform, anti-science on climate change, and hates both Obamacare and Medicare expansion with a passion. The GOP base is also Southern and Tea Party. Their candidate will likely be Rand Paul, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.
Note that many reliably Republican voters now call themselves independents because they don't trust the Republican compromisers in Washington. They would almost rather vote for a third party libertarian than a RINO like McCain or Romney or Christie. Their distrust is rooted in their repudiation of the policies of George W. Bush to a) engage in grandiose big government schemes to transform the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan) that failed; b) balloon the deficit and expand the entitlement culture -- Bush greatly expanded the cost of Medicare with his pharmaceutical drug benefit; c) bail out Wall Street and the big banks, as Bush did, practicing socialism for the rich and infringing on free market ideology. To this populist crowd, Bush, McCain and Romney were establishment politicians conspiring with Democrats to advance entitlement culture (Romneycare/Obamacare), and immigration "reform" -- letting all the riffraff from Central and South America who don't speak English become citizens, sure signs (to this crowd) of American decline and decadence.
Culturally, the Southern base of the Republican Party probably distrusts the Yankee Christie who hugged Obama in the final days of the 2012 election campaign. Christie also has a tendency to shoot from the lip and show rage in public that some will find offensive. He will have trouble engendering enthusiasm in the Republican base.
I could see Paul or Cruz mounting a third party challenge if Christie is the nominee. They disagree with him almost as much as they disagree with Democrats. If Paul would run as a true libertarian -- dropping opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and appealing to progressive libertarians -- he might even have a chance to garner a plurality in a three-way race. He could win Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, possibly Arizona (where there's strong anti-immigrant resentment), Nevada, Indiana, Missouri, Wyoming and Montana.
The threat of a third party challenge from the right would force Christie or Kasich to make overtures or policy concessions to the Tea Party in order to keep the Republican Party together.
In the age of the Internet, you can organize your own political army -- you don't need political parties like you once did.
But I agree with you that a conservative/libertarian/Tea Party challenge to the Republicans on the right would probably be seen as suicidal if there is not a viable Green/progressive party challenge to the Democrats on the left.
Principles Vs. Pragmatism
I guess the main question for the conservative base of the Republican Party and the liberal base of the Democratic Party will be whether to stand on principle and mount third/fourth party challenges if necessary, or to take a more pragmatic approach.
That may be determined by how much conservatives *like* or can stomach Christie and how much liberals *like* or can stomach Hillary, Biden or whoever the Democratic nominee is. I suspect there would be a lot of discontent among Democrats with Hillary or Biden.
The intensity of dislike/fear/hatred for the other party's nominee will also be a factor. And how much passion each side can generate -- how much do they really want to win the presidency?
Generally it takes a political party eight or 12 years out of the White House to rebuild their fractured coalition and to generate enough passion for victory to win the White House again. It took the Democrats 12 years to recover from the Reagan-Bush years. The Clintons' enthusiastic coalition of 1992 and 1996 fractured just enough in 2000 to create a Nader/Green Party that deprived Al Gore of the presidency. The "Tony Blair" or Joe Lieberman or Reagan Democrats supported Bush on Iraq in 2004, depriving John Kerry of the White House (his credibility on Iraq -- "he was for the war before he was against it" -- was the same as Mitt Romney's on health care reform in 2012).
The Republicans fractured in 1992 and 1996 between moderates and conservative ideologues, and again in 2008, between the establishment types and the libertarians. A surprising number of moderate evangelicals who had voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 voted for Obama in 2008.
Bruce, you're suggesting that some Senate Democrats will lose their seats in 2014, and Democrats will lose control of the Senate due to the incompetent rollout of Obamacare? I don't think so. I suspect by the fall of 2014 the smoke will clear on Obamacare and it will be seen as a "win" or as a draw for the vast majority.
I don't think the Republicans will lose the House of Representatives in 2014. For example, the newly gerrymandered conservative district in Western North Carolina represented by Tea Party freshman Mark Meadows shows few signs of throwing him out, even though his district lost millions of dollars and possibly thousands of jobs due to the shutdown that Meadows engineered. The most vociferous supporters of the shutdown came from safe Republican districts. Google search: Most Vulnerable Republicans.
Democrats in 2016: I don't see Hillary as the candidate of Democratic leftists but of corporate centrists. Same with Biden. I don't think either one of them can run from the left. Does this mean the Democratic left will be dormant in 2016? Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, darling of the left, says she has no interest in running. Maybe Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley or New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand (if Hillary doesn't run) will take up that cause. Neither has much crossover appeal in a national campaign, from my first vague impression of them.
What will the Democratic agenda be in 2014 and 2016? Hard to figure out. Economic inequality, which Bill DeBlasio ran on in New York? How do you make that a national issue? Do you run on a platform of cutting corporate welfare, strengthening unions, raising taxes on the wealthy? Those are dubious solutions to economic inequality in the nation as a whole, and not particularly popular with the overall electorate.
Obama is quoted as saying he had a very thin agenda for his second term. Those issues that the left might be most passionate about -- surveillance, invasion of privacy, press rights, drones -- involve repudiation of the Obama administration, which I don't think either Clinton or Biden will do. If Paul would take up those issues, he could broaden his support.
Mainstream GOP Could Unite Behind Christie; No Third Party Challenge from the Right?
Bruce Johnson replies: "I agree that the Tea Party and Christian Right will combine to make it tough for Christie. My biggest hope is that there will be so MANY right-wingers running that Christie will be the early front runner and then the more mainstream party types will unite behind him and help him win the nomination the way they did behind previous nominees all of whom were fairly mainstream sorts (who then did horrible things like picking Palin and talking about the 47%).
"I can't see Cruz or Paul running a third party campaign. They are serious politicians who care for their own future. They might like to see Christie go down to Clinton or Biden or whomever, but they wouldn't risk their chances for 2020 by openly breaking with the party. Not even Ron Paul did that."