Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Chris Christie's Decision

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

No, not that decision.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is doing the sorts of things that prospective presidential candidates do. First of all, he is openly talking about the prospect. He additionally says that a decision on a 2024 White House bid is coming in the next couple of weeks. And he has been to New Hampshire within the last month as well.

Christie has also shown a willingness to take on both former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the two candidates, or would-be candidates, who capture the biggest share of support of any two potential nominees in polling on the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. So, many signs to this point in the invisible primary seem to be suggesting that Christie is working on the contours of what a run would look and sound like and whether there is sufficient support for such an endeavor. But "sufficient" may be in the eye of the beholder because Christie is not really registering in primary polling and the financial backing he may be able to muster for a candidacy may be less sincere about Christie being a viable alternative to Trump and/or DeSantis and more about his ability to take it to one or both of them. Of course, that is the path a lot of the candidates not named Trump or DeSantis envision right now. As FHQ said on Monday, the hope is...
That the indictments get Trump. That DeSantis implodes. That the two candidates currently atop the polls of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race so drag each other through the mud that voters start to flock to another viable alternative on down the line.
However, what Christie says about Trump or DeSantis now, before throwing his hat in the ring, is one thing. What he does once in the race (if he enters) is another. And that is the decision FHQ is hinting at in the lede. Here is the thing: When one reads a headline like this one from Maggie Haberman's piece in the New York Times, it has the potential to conjure up certain memories about Christie. 

"Chris Christie, Eyeing ’24 Run, Takes Shots at DeSantis."

Honestly, FHQ's first thought was that "tak[ing] shots at DeSantis" is a lot like taking shots at another challenger to Trump but in the 2016 cycle, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). After all, aside from not winning the 2016 Republican nomination, Christie is best known for kneecapping Rubio in the lead up to the 2016 New Hampshire primary. He punched laterally rather than up and at Trump, who was coming off a runner-up finish in Iowa the week before. 

And that raises questions about Christie in 2024. Does he continue to go after Trump and DeSantis? Can he do so in high-profile settings like debates when the lights are on and more people are watching or merely on the hustings across the Granite state? Or perhaps more importantly, can Christie effectively go after both? Trump will be ready with a response. DeSantis may not (or may not have an effective one). 

And that strikes FHQ as the biggest strategic decision for Christie 2024: keep taking shots at whomever when they present themselves or train his sights on Trump, aiming to topple the frontrunner unlike in 2016.

Trump may, in fact, be in trouble in Iowa, but the social scientist in me still pushes back against the sort of "the people who are talking to the people I have spoken with in Iowa say..." account that Mike Murphy had up at The Bulwark yesterday. The jury still seems to be out on where the former president stands in the Hawkeye state. For every "evangelicals have turned against Trump" story there seems to be an attendant "evangelicals are sticking with Trump" piece. And although there is a clear "Trump protection" angle to the new bill in Iowa to set up a 70 day registration buffer before the caucuses (because the sponsor is an adviser to the Trump campaign in Iowa), there is genuine concern out there among Republicans -- in and out of Iowa -- about Democrats participating in Republican contests in 2024. FHQ has heard it expressed in at least Idaho and Michigan already in 2023. 

On both fronts -- coalition support and state-level rules -- it comes back to the question FHQ continues to ask in this space: Is Trump 2023 closer to Trump 2015 or Trump 2019? Trump can maybe survive without evangelicals in Iowa. He did in 2016. The bigger question may be if folks who identify as evangelical come over to him (or not) as primary season progresses. And on the rules, Trump is vastly ahead of where he was in 2015. Behind 2019's pace, sure, but ahead of 2015. That continues to be an area to watch as the invisible primary advances. 

In the endorsement primary, DeSantis went to Washington on Tuesday. Then Trump ended up with two more congressional endorsements and another one of those was from the Florida delegation. DeSantis did not leave empty-handed. Congresswoman Laurel Lee (R-FL) became the first member of the congressional delegation from the Sunshine state to throw her support behind the governorFiveThirtyEight has more on why these endorsements matter for Trump.

Over at FHQ Plus...
  • There was a shake up to the bill that would reestablish a presidential primary bill in Missouri, some  calendar foreshadowing from New York Democrats and an overdue thought on South Carolina as the first Democratic contest in 2024 now that their draft delegate selection plan is out. All at FHQ Plus.
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On this date... 1980, North Dakota Democrats caucused. 1988, Jesse Jackson won the Vermont caucuses, edging out eventual nominee Michael Dukakis who had won the early March beauty contest primary in the Green Mountain state. But Dukakis took the big prize of the day, winning the New York primary. George H.W. Bush won the Republican primary in the Empire State unopposed. 1995, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar (R) entered the race for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination. 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won the New York primary in their respective parties, both padding leads in the delegate count on the way to the nominations.


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