F.A.Q.: Why is Chris Christie fit to be keynote speaker but not running mate?

Chris Christie and Mitt Romney. ()
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A conversation with Star-Ledger editorial page editor and columnist Tom Moran about Republican National Convention keynote speaker Chris Christie.

Josh: Do you think the Romney campaign ever gave serious consideration to Chris Christie as a running mate?

Tom: Yes. Christie is the party's most effective salesman, and he has worked hard to build a national following. And he's especially good in informal settings, which happen a lot during campaigns. He also has proven successful with independent voters, who will ultimately decide the presidential election. He has big drawbacks, yes, but I'm sure they considered him seriously.

Josh: What do you think those drawbacks were, from Romney's perspective? 

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Tom: Christie speaks directly, from the gut, which is central to his appeal. But it also makes him dangerous. In one recent incident on the boardwalk, he was recorded taunting a critic, almost as if he wanted to fight. He insulted a Navy Seal veteran at another event. You can get away with that in New Jersey, but it could be costly in a national campaign. Also, Christie has thin experience, just half of one term as governor. He said himself that he's not prepared to be president, a statement Democrats would highlight. I wonder, too, if his weight was an issue.

Tom: This process was very secretive so this is all speculation. My guess is this decision was more about Romney's feelings towards Paul Ryan than about Chris Christie.

Josh: What do you suppose the decision to give Christie the keynote says about Romney's feelings toward him? 

Tom: Some say it's payback for Christie's early endorsement of Romney, but I don't buy that. Romney picked the guy he thought would help him most, and my guess is it's a good call. Christie will knock this out of the park, and is one of the few Republican leaders who can appeal to independents, where this race will be won or lost.

Josh: Does it take anything away from Christie that it's going to be a set-piece arrangement? It seems like his greatest moments as a speaker—at least the ones that got him the most notice outside New Jersey—were his extemporaneous responses to critics at town hall meetings. Is there anything to the idea that he's better debater than he is Big Occasion orator?

Tom: Yes, the back-and-forth is where he really excels. But if you see him at town hall meetings, he begins with a 20-minute talk, and he's very effective. I think you can bank on him giving an effective speech. He's the most talented communicator I've seen since Bill Clinton.

 

Josh: Well, I know you've seen enough of these guys to know what a serious statement that is. I'll skip right over the question about whether he made a mistake not running this year (let's take him at his word that he just didn't want to) to ask you about Christie's future.

Assuming he does in fact knock it out of the park, and assuming that Romney proceeds to lose in November, and assuming he wins re-election next year ...What sort of position will he be in for 2016?

Tom: Probably a strong position, but that depends on his record as governor. He has some huge challenges ahead of him, in part because he has pushed big costs to the future, and those bills will come due in his second term, assuming he continues serving. He's done that with pension contributions, transit costs, and if he gets his way, with a tax cut he wants to phase in. And don't forget property taxes, the state's biggest problem, and one that's worsened since he swore the oath. The speech will be big. But his record in 2016 will be bigger.