Chris Christie has dominated the news cycle since winning reelection as New Jersey governor on Tuesday. His huge margin of victory in a state that supported Barack Obama in 2012 has led many pundits to state that Christie is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. However, just three weeks ago, Senator Ted Cruz was dominating headlines and being proclaimed as a leading prospect for heading the Republican ticket, at least within the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.
Although Christie has many admirers and does draw some bi-partisan support and Cruz revs up the Tea Party base, lessons from the previous Republican nominating processes should create pause for Christie or Cruz supporters. There are at least four reasons why neither is a likely nominee in 2016:
1. Republicans don’t favor big personalities. Both Chris Christie and Ted Cruz have big egos and big personalities. These characteristics cause them to be popular on the talk show circuit and a fun interview with reporters. The Republican nominating process, however, punishes candidates with big egos and personalities. In 2012, almost every leading Republican contender–Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain–with charisma ended up being undone because they believed so much in the force of their personalities that they self-destructed. It was ultimately the least charismatic candidate–Mitt Romney– that survived the process. Other bland Republicans ended up being nominated despite having far more charismatic challengers in the nominating process–Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush to name three.
2. Both have geographical liabilities. Chris Christie comes from a northeastern state, New Jersey, where many Republicans seems more like Democrats or independent in other parts of the country. Republicans from southern and western states are highly suspicious of northeastern Republicans as being less doctrinaire. Mitt Romney had a hard time with this suspicion and even all the verbal gymnastics in the world could not help him overcome policies he implemented or supported while governor of Massachusetts, like Romneycare. Ted Cruz has a very different geographical problem–Texas. Most Americans, including those who vote, have a love/hate relationship with Texas. While Americans admire the big bold image Texas and Texans display, politically Texas worries people. George W. Bush did not end up being the strict conservative he purported to be and the periodic threat made by politicians like Governor Rick Perry that Texas will secede from the United States reminds people that some Texans are more loyal to the “nation” of Texas than the United States.
3. The constituency issue. Both Chris Christie and Ted Cruz have huge liabilities with major voting blocs in the country, particularly women. Chris Christie was able to get through his reelection bid for government without having the “War against Women” label applied to him, even after using the veto on many issues supported by women, such as abortion rights and increasing the minimum wage.Likewise, Cruz favors limiting women’s access to abortion clinics, is against marriage equality, and wants drastic cuts in the food stamp program, all ideas that have hurt other Republican candidates.
4. There is too much time before the nomination process runs its course. Both Christie and Cruz peaked too early to be considered likely nominees. As seen in the 2012 nominating process, Republicans were vicious toward one another, leading to what some pundits referred to as the “Republican Circular Firing Squad.” That approach seems alive and well within Republican circles as Rand Paul has engaged in a blood feud with Chris Christie and many Republicans have taken pot shots at Ted Cruz since the government shutdown and Cruz’s failed attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act. A Republican with a legitimate shot at the 2016 nomination would need to peak in popularity in late 2015/early 2016 to withstand the arrows aimed at her or him.
As a political analyst, I am often asked who the respective parties will nominate in 2016 and my answer is always the same: I don’t know. I am an analyst, not a fortune-teller. I do think the Republican nominee will end up being a more reserved personality from a southern or western state and who can at least hold her or his own with women and Hispanics. I also think that person is much more likely to be a governor or former governor, not someone from Congress or the business community.