So last week, Chris Christie said no.
This should not have been a surprise. The New Jersey governor has said “no” repeatedly when urged by Republican movers, shakers and donors to consider running for president. Last week’s last and final “no” theoretically puts the question to bed for good.
But it also raises other questions. The fact that it is still cajoling potential candidates at this late date suggests a restiveness in the Grand Old Party. The Republicans are looking for someone to love.
Sure, they’ve got Mitt Romney who is solid and smooth, but does not excite. He is John Kerry in elephant drag. They’ve got Michele Bachmann, but she is handicapped by the fact that she’s Michele Bachmann. They’ve got Rick Perry, but it turns out he can’t get out of his own way.
Christie was the latest hope. Now that’s gone, too.
There is, by the way, nothing uniquely Republican about looking for love. Democrats and independents swooned for Barack Obama in 2008. The ardor has cooled considerably since then, owing to the fact that Obama has turned out to be President Gumby. The caution and pragmatism that once seemed a welcome respite from the unilateral recklessness of his predecessor now comes across as the malleability of one who has rubber in his spine.
At some level, you had to know that that — or some other disappointment — was coming. Falling in love is always easier than staying in love, especially in politics. Yet every four years, like a middle-aged divorcee in a singles bar, there we go again, looking for romance.
In his new movie, The Ides Of March, George Clooney casts a pessimistic eye upon this courtship. Directing himself from a screenplay he co-wrote, Clooney plays Mike Morris, a Democratic governor seeking his party’s presidential nomination. In his raw charisma and refusal to pander, Morris seems the stuff of dreams for voters fed up with the chicanery of — all together now — politics as usual.
But when Morris proves to be less than advertised, one feels not so much the shock of revelation as the sigh of recognition. The manufacture and sale of presidential candidates has conditioned us to expect to heave that sigh, eventually.
Indeed, the interesting thing about the courtship of Chris Christie is that, for all those who were urging him to run, the argument seemed to be based little, if at all, on the notion that he had ideas or held positions that would benefit the country. To the contrary, not much was known about Christie’s positions on many national issues and the little that was, suggested a candidate too moderate for the conservative bloc that now animates the GOP.
It is telling that that seemed not to bother anyone. Christie is likable and plain spoken. He comes across as a guy unseduced by political pomp and folderol. That was enough to start people salivating. His actual ideas, opinions, readiness, ability to lead or even interest in the job, all seemed secondary or even immaterial.
It speaks well of his integrity that Christie said no. It says volumes about our system that he was so vehemently importuned by the GOP establishment to say yes. But that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it?
They felt they could sell him. They felt they could make us love him. That was all they needed to know.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.