News that Gov. Chris Christie underwent stomach surgery as part of an aggressive weight loss program has reignited speculation about his intentions in 2016. I’ve always thought that his girth would make it impossible for him to run for the presidency, not because Americans wouldn’t vote for a fat candidate, but because I never thought he’d have the physical stamina for the grueling pace of a presidential campaign. Assuming his weight loss regimen is effective and he has similar results to New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, Christie could be more than 100 pounds lighter by the time he has to start campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire. So, that at least makes him a more plausible contender.
Christie has a number of things going for him as a potential candidate. Winning reelection by a wide margin in a blue state would help him make a strong pitch to Republicans that he can expand the electoral map. He could argue that his victories over public sector unions shows he’d be willing to tackle tough national issues, such as entitlements, as president. But he’ll also face a ton of problems, especially when it comes to winning the Republican nomination.
Even putting aside his embrace of President Obama (and scolding of House Republicans) in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s record on guns, radical Islam, and his decision to participate in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will all cause problems for him in a Republican primary.
No doubt, Republicans have a history of nominating candidates who have failed conservative litmus tests, most recently Mitt Romney and John McCain. So, certainly there’s a credible argument to be made that Christie can follow a similar path. But Christie will be facing a much stronger GOP field in 2016 than McCain or Romney did.
Also, beyond any given issues, it’s questionable how Christie’s brash New Jersey style will play out beyond the Northeast. When Rudy Giuliani ran for president, his post-Sept. 11 rock star status faded over the course of the GOP primary. No doubt, he had a lot of problems that have been well reported, such as his liberal views on social issues, his messy personal life and his poorly managed campaign. But one thing I kept running into among voters in early states when covering the campaign was that his background as a New Yorker was a real turnoff and made voters view him as rude and somehow shady. As somebody who grew up in the New York/New Jersey area, I underestimated how repellant it could be. Christie has developed a national following for the YouTube clips of his epic confrontations with his adversaries. On the campaign trail with Mitt Romney around Iowa and New Hampshire during the 2012 primary season, Christie would be brought on the stage for a few minutes to do his New Jersey tough guy shtick. But I wondered at the time, and still wonder, whether the act would wear thin over the course of a long campaign.
For Christie to win a GOP primary, I think it would have to be fundamentally different nomination process than what we’ve come to expect, which is that one candidate starts racking up wins in early states and builds from there. For Christie to win, I think early states and momentum will have to take a back seat as a group of candidates go hunting for delegates wherever and whenever they can find them. If Christie could build on his stronghold in the Northeast and gain delegates in other big states, such as California, perhaps he could pull it off. Barring this kind of scenario, however, I imagine Christie will have a rocky road to the GOP nomination, even if he sheds his excess poundage.