Christie 'Earnestly Considers' Run, And Declines

Guest

Ken Rudin, political junkie, NPR

For weeks, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fueled speculation that he would run for the GOP nomination for president. He hosted fundraisers and traveled the country speaking with supporters. In a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Christie announced, finally, he will not run.

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NEAL CONAN, Host:

For months, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said there is no way he would run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He reconsidered after pleas from the Republican establishment and influential donors. With deadlines approaching, today in Trenton, Governor Christie made it official.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: So this is not the time to leave unfinished business for me. The stakes are too high, and the consequences are too real. So New Jersey, whether you like or not, you're stuck with me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at a news conference last hour in Trenton. Does - how does Christie's announcement changed the race for the 2012 Republican nomination? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Political Junkie Ken Rudin jumps the gun by a day to join us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And the worst kept secret in Trenton today.

RUDIN: Well, the thing is he's been saying for a year. I mean, you can quote every press conference he's had in the past year. Everybody said, are you changing mind? I am not running. I am not ready to be president. I would commit suicide to show you that I'm not going to run for president. And so we all seem to be so amazed that here's a politician who kept his word because, you know - but what's interesting about him and you watched him for 50 minutes, 5-0 minutes in his press conference and he was asked the same question in so many different ways and he answered it in so many different ways. But, you know, he's entertaining. He's infuriating. He's charming. He's a wise guy. He's a New Jersey kind of guy who...

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: ...you know, those kind of guys. And I think both - people are not especially happy with this Republican field. They think that Mitt Romney is not sufficiently conservative if not a true believer. And we've seen from three successive debates that Rick Perry may have some problems as well, being very uneven as a debater and, of course, there's other controversies that's come over - come around about Perry the last couple of days. So more and more people seem to be searching for new people, and Chris Christie was the guy they were looking for.

CONAN: And he said at his news conference that he had been approached by very serious people who pleaded with him to enter the race. They said, we need you now. He said he got not just those kinds of Republican Party big-wigs but a FedEx letter that he got from somebody in Nebraska sent to his children saying, if you can convince your dad to run, you'll go down in history as the people who changed the course of the country.

RUDIN: It's remarkable we always want these candidates who don't want to run. And then once they do run, we say what a disappointment. The conservatives were begging Rick Perry to run. They thought he would be the perfect antidote to Mitt Romney's moderation or centristism(ph), whatever that was, and he turned out to be a bust. Fred Thompson in 2008, you know, if only he would run he will save the Republican Party, and his good numbers lasted until the day he announced for president.

CONAN: Well, we'd like to hear from those of you who want to know how these changes the Republican presidential nomination for president. And if you are following Chris Christie, if you're familiar with him and wanted him to come into the race, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Chris Christie, of course, just elected. He's still in his first term as the Republican governor of New Jersey and was thought to be attractive because, despite his sometimes abrasive personality - he's a Jersey guy - he managed to get some things through a Democratic legislature.

RUDIN: Well, he did, but I think what they really like, what the conservatives and the Republicans really like about him is that he stood up to the unions. He talked tough to the unions. He balanced the budget. He didn't raise taxes. But if you look at his record, whether it's conservative or not, I mean, of course, when you're running for governor in New Jersey, you have to be in favor of gun control. You should be, you know, talking about things that some moderate Republicans talk about. So that's good to - that's good position when you're running in New Jersey, but nationally, if Rick Perry is insufficiently conservative now because of the positions he had on immigration?

CONAN: On immigration, yeah.

RUDIN: ?I mean, well, you know what Chris Christie would have gone through. But there are a lot of big-money people who are not happy with the field. Now lot of this - who wanted him to run. A lot of these people wanted Rudy Giuliani to run, and we remember how well Rudy Giuliani did four years ago.

CONAN: Yet just a couple of weeks ago, reports of a Giuliani senior operative up in New Hampshire of all places. Again, there's still talk that he might reconsider.

RUDIN: Yes. He and George Pataki people who are beating the phone booth in Manchester decide whether they're running or not.

CONAN: Well, there is one person who would have to have a meeting of her supporters in a very large room, and that would be Sarah Palin, who is yet to decide or announce whether she is going to run or not.

RUDIN: True, but although last week she did say she thought that the presidency might shackle her, I guess just the way the governorship of Alaska shackled her. But, I mean, she could be much more influential, and she would be much more influential as a noncandidate. She likes the tease. She likes the attention. I can't see that make - her running, getting into the race at all.

CONAN: Yet, interestingly, there was a poll put out today by The Washington Post that included both questions about if Sarah Palin comes in, if Chris Christie comes in, and neither one shot to the top of the charts.

RUDIN: No, but who is shooting to the top of the charts, at least according to today's Washington Post-New York - ABC News poll, is Herman Cain, that while Mitt Romney has 25 percent of the support of Republicans, Herman Cain has tied Rick Perry with, I think, 19 percent in second place. That's remarkable - 16 percent, I'm sorry, 16 percent, and that's pretty remarkable because basically he's giving a good speech. He won the Florida straw poll. But other than that, he has no experience, never attained high office before, you know. So it's just he's(ph) flavor of the month.

CONAN: Interestingly, Mitt Romney has the same 25 percent in the poll that he had last time. It is Rick Perry's supporters who have gone to Herman Cain. They are tied, as you said, for second. Ron Paul in fourth place, and then I guess the rest of them are also-rans. Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Paul is on the line from Wilmington in North Carolina.

PAUL: Yes, I was just hoping that Christie would come into the race. Down here in North Carolina, I don't know a lot about him. I do like what I hear so far with him on television. He seems like he's doing a great job for New Jersey. He saved them really a lot of money. Not really sure if the candidates we have right now are really going to beat Obama come next year. I know Obama is having a lot of trouble, but I still think they're going to have a tough time against him.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, that same conclusion, a lot of Republicans think this is a now wonderful opportunity to defeat a sitting president - do we have the right candidate?

RUDIN: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, perhaps two months ago they thought - the consensus was that President Obama does have difficulties but he should fail to re-election. Now most people are not sure about that with the no change in the unemployment rate, the number of people looking for work, the state of the economy, things like that. So they want to be very sure. And the fact - Neal, you make a good point - that through all this thing, Mitt Romney's numbers have not moved at all, so this suiting(ph) of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry and Chris Christie may be because they're just unhappy with Mitt Romney as the standard bearer. And yet he still does better against President Obama than any other Republican.

CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Reid, and Reid is with us from Medin(ph) , is that right, in North Carolina?

REID: That's Mebane...

CONAN: Mebane, go ahead.

REID: ...North Carolina.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

REID: Right. Thank you. I was just curious as to whether you and Ken might comment on whether Christie's decision might have to do with his just desire to avoid the intense media scrutiny. I think Rick Perry has learned this lesson very quickly. And it's always occurred to me that Jeb Bush, if he would step in right now, would go right to the top of the charts. But I don't think Jeb has any interest in it, because he doesn't want to subject himself to that.

CONAN: He may not also think it's long enough between Bushes, but Ken...

RUDIN: That's what I really think. I mean, there's a lot of speculation that Jeb Bush is looking at 2016. 2012 will be too soon for a Bush candidacy. But I don't think Chris Christie has ever been afraid of media scrutiny. I mean, as U.S. attorney before he was governor, you know, his life is an open book. I really think that with South Carolina - first Florida, then South Carolina, moving up their primaries to late January, that means Iowa is going to be January 2nd, New Hampshire is going to be January 10th. You have to have - that'll give you three months to raise tons of money, establish organizations in all those states, and no candidate has ever been able to do it.

CONAN: Reid, thanks very much for the phone call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Nicky, Nicky calling from St. Louis.

NICKY: Oh, hello. Thanks for taking my call. I don't have a strong opinion either way on any of the Republican candidates yet and/or Christie. But I was thinking, there's so much audio on him saying there's no way I'm running, don't worry, I'm not running, blah, blah, blah. So he can't really go back on that. But why doesn't he run as a vice presidential candidate with Romney or one of the frontrunners to boost up that person? And that would be the perfect solution.

CONAN: He was asked about that at the news conference earlier today and said, I don't think there's anybody on the planet who knows my personality who thinks I would be a good number two.

RUDIN: That's true. He did say that, and everybody laughed. But you know that everybody always says that they don't have any interest in the vice presidency. John Edwards said it over and over again, and ultimately they will take it if they're asked.

NICKY: All right. Well, thanks.

CONAN: Nicky, thanks very much. And New Jersey, where there's been talk of various people as possible vice presidential candidates, Marco Rubio in Florida, an important swing state; Senator Portman in Ohio, an important swing state. New Jersey would be a plum if a Republican presidential candidate could pick that up.

RUDIN: Right. And I don't believe that's happened since, I don't - I think, George H. W. Bush won it in 1988, and I believe that's the last time a Republican took New Jersey. But Chris Christie, you know, he, I mean, this is not a pun here, but he is larger than life. He would overwhelm the ticket because he's just so outspoken. And sometimes, you just like, you know, in the old days you would just want a running mate to just bash the opponents, but Chris Christie will not be limited to any role like that.

CONAN: He did not rule out any run in the future. He said, we've got important work to do here in New Jersey. I love my job. I love my state. I'm going to stay and do the job the people elected me to do. But might he have missed his moment? I mean, for example, he might be thinking about 2016 too, but in between now and then he faces what could be a very difficult re-election.

RUDIN: He does, and he's up for re-election in 2013. For all the Republicans who love Chris Christie, the Democrats do not love him. They feel he's a bully. They feel he's, you know, that he just runs roughshod over the opposition and he's not, you know, a likeable kind of governor. And so, yes, he has a tough race in 2013, but he may do what Mitt Romney decided to do. When Mitt Romney was elected governor in 2002, knowing he wanted to run for president, he decided not to run for re-election in 2006, focus on the presidency. Chris Christie could do the same thing.

CONAN: And especially if Cory Booker, the current mayor of Newark, gets into the race on the Democratic side.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: So when did you change Political Junkie from Wednesday to Tuesday? When Governor Christie scheduled his nearest conference for 1:00 this afternoon Eastern Time, we'll be talking more about this tomorrow on the Political Junkie with Ken Rudin. So don't worry, he's not being preempted this week. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we can get another caller in. Let's go to Ben. Ben's on the line from Pittsburgh.

BEN: Yes.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

BEN: Well, there seems to be a huge disconnect from practical reality among conservative Republicans. And I think that the (technical difficulties) battle is a good example of that, but there are lots of other examples and - and now here again we see that no candidate, you know, lives up to the perfect ideal. I'm just wondering if there's something about the conservative ideology that makes them prone to this kind of disappointment with whatever candidate they get. Could you comment on that?

RUDIN: Well, that's, you know, that's a good point because when - obviously when they were not too happy about the prospect of a Mitt Romney candidacy, and Rick Perry, by all accounts, was a true believer conservative. He was, you know, he was a tea partier before there was a tea partier. He got tremendous conservative support in Texas, running against - even against a tea party candidate. And yet when he said - talk about the children of illegal immigrants getting in-state tuition in Texas...

CONAN: And the mandatory HPV virus...

RUDIN: And that as well, the right wing of the party, the conservatives, said that, you know, this guy is not a true believer. He is not really one of us. There is a litmus test that I don't think we've seen in the Republican Party really going back to 1964 and Barry Goldwater, even more than that because by all accounts, Rick Perry - and Mitt Romney for, you know, for that matter - are conservatives. But for some people, that's not enough.

BEN: Yeah. Because really at odds with, you know, the way they are so supportive of the business community. I mean, businesspeople ? my dad was a businessman and he was a very practical person. He had to get things done. And so the whole free market, you know, business orientation, you know, good government, efficiency, it just doesn't seem to square with the idealism that is so disconnected from practical reality.

CONAN: We've also had commentary that it turns out the political left can't find a president from the Democratic Party that they've liked, possibly since Franklin Roosevelt. So there's that side of it too. It's - it may be have to do with people who have a very firm ideological basis for their beliefs. But Ben, thanks very much for the call.

RUDIN: Although that's interesting, Neal, because, you know, given what's going on with the economy and given Obama's numbers, the left is still not talking about a challenge to President Obama in the 2012 primary.

CONAN: Except for Ralph Nader.

RUDIN: Well, except for Ralph Nader and perhaps Dennis Kucinich. But for the most part, the progressive wing of the party is sticking with the president, and that's interesting.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, will be back with us again tomorrow in this hour on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

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