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The Kean Revelation

It’s official.  The Christie camp is actively stoking the fire of the “will he, won’t he” rumor mill.  Up to now, Chris Christie could plausibly claim that “outsiders” were responsible for the ongoing saga of a 2012 run.   No more.

The ball game changed when former Governor Tom Kean told the National Review that Christie is reconsidering whether to run for president.   This refutes Christie’s vociferous public denials about interest in a run made as recently as last Thursday.

Kean is arguably the most popular and well-respected New Jersey statesman of the past generation.  He is also a confidante of the current governor. Kean knows that any statement he makes on the record will be treated with exceptional gravitas.

Unless he made a major error in judgment, Tom Kean would not have stated that Christie was considering a run unless (a) he heard it first hand from Christie, (b) he believed it to be true, (c) he was led to believe that the Christie camp wanted this information to find its way into the public domain.

Now, any one of these assumptions may be wrong.  However, Tom Kean has to understand that is what the public will think when he makes such a statement.

There are other signs that Christie is seriously reconsidering.  But even before the Kean revelation, a TV ad put out by the Christie booster group, Committee for Our Children’s Future, had less to do with effecting policy change in New Jersey and more to do with bolstering the governor’s national reputation.

Tonight’s policy speech at the Reagan Library (hello!) may give us a better clue.  But there are some pitfalls to this gavotte whether Christie is actually considering a run or not.

It’s oft stated that those with presidential ambitions don’t get to pick their time, the time picks them.  Christie may never get another opportunity like the one that presents itself now. On the other hand, running for president now and losing, could spell the end of his political career.

If he doesn’t win the nomination, he will be seen as someone who can’t live up to expectations.  If he doesn’t beat Obama but makes it close, he may still be seen as a potential contender in 2016.  However, he will have spent so much time away from New Jersey that he may undermine his chances for re-election as governor in 2013, which would then scupper his national reputation.  Specifically, he will have lost more elections than he won in his political career.

So, the question right now is what kind of gambler Christie is.  Does he go all in on one roll of the dice and run for president now?  Or does he hold back his stake on the greater probability of extending his political career, but with the very real prospect that he might not get another shot at president?

Let’s assume the latter.  In this case, he is in danger of overplaying his flirtation with the national Republican Party.  There comes a point when your suitors lose interest.  I think Chris Christie is coming close to that point.  If he keeps playing coy beyond that, it may actually lead to outright resentment.

Christie probably could have extended the dance a little longer, as long as the rumors were sourced to people outside his inner circle.  Now he can’t.  We must assume that Tom Kean was given the green light to reveal Christie’s current thought process.

If he’s not really considering a presidential run, then shame on him for playing Tom Kean (or shame on Tom Kean for playing us).  Otherwise, he needs to make his decision now.

If Christie gets in the race, he will find – like so many so-called “saviors” before him –that many of his enthusiastic supporters will step back and tell him he’s on his own.  Their job was to get him into the race and that job would be done.

Furthermore, nominations are not won on national reputation, but by how well you do in the early contests. The experience of one of his closest advisors, Mike DuHaime, on the Giuliani campaign in 2008 shows that you can’t start the race in Florida.

James Carville is reported to have said that New Jersey has a very selfish electorate.  Well, that may be true in some regards, but we don’t expect to have shaken hands with the candidate we will vote for in a presidential primary.  That’s the reality in Iowa and New Hampshire.

It’s all about organization and feet on the streets in the early states.  But even if Christie can put an organization together in those states in the next 60 days, he will not have been there personally.  He will have to spend every single hour between now and January glad-handing the locals in those states.

As recently as last week, Chris Christie said he has no fire in the belly for that kind of campaign.  If that’s really the case, then he does the national GOP and his constituents in New Jersey – as well as himself – a disservice by actively encouraging this never-ending story.

[UPDATE 4:10pm — The Christie camp is saying no way, without disavowing Kean’s statements.  But of course, it would be unseemly to shoot down our elder statesman.  So we are left with two possibilities:  (1)  Kean was given the go ahead as a way to build more drama around the Reagan speech.  But this would have been a dumb strategy.  The rumors were floating nicely on their own without Christie having to take any responsibility for them.  This would have been gilding the lily.
(2) The other possibility is that Kean strayed off the ranch.  Or had a senior moment perhaps?  In any event, Kean’s statement was the first real signal from the inner circle that Christie was considering a run.  That increased his national supporters’ simmering hopes to a rolling boil.  So now, Christie has to throw a lot of ice on the rumors.  And that can lead to confusion, resentment, etc.  Something Christie doesn’t want leading into tonight’s speech.