If Gov. Chris Christie runs for president, it will be a surprise to key party allies, who believe his denials that he intends to campaign for the Republican nomination, and listened to him repeat that emphatically in a members-only party huddle-up two weeks ago at a Giants game.
Of course, they also admit to a self-serving desire to keep Christie in New Jersey, to continue to build what has been a long-battered N.J. GOP organization.
Many fear the utter collapse of the party if a rejuvenated GOP built on the Christie brand suddenly finds itself deprived of its micromanaging, politically savvy boss.
“New Jersey needs a lot more straightening out,” veteran state Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R-39), Demarest, told PolitickerNJ.com. “He’s doing a great job. He’s head and shoulders above any governor of New Jersey in my experience. He needs a lot more momentum in the right diection. I hope he does not go for president.”
The whole party now is undoubtedly top down, with ambitions kept in check by the umbrella ego of the governor – all potentially lost if Christie runs for president and gives shell-shocked Democrats an opportunity to regroup.
“This party was in the wilderness for ten years before Gov. Christie instilled discipline,” said Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton.
“The attention he’s gotten nationally is positive for us,” Layton added. “It’s given him the ability to raise money and help build a warchest for this year’s legislative elections.”
But, If he runs, “the country would gain a great leader, but for selfish reasons I hope he doesn’t run,” Layton said. “New Jersey would be losing one of the brightest stars we’ve had in decades. It would be a shame if he left.”
Party organization sources tell PolitickerNJ.com the chief reason why Christie won’t run remains family. He is genuinely concerned about the prospect of not having time with his four children should he go full bore right now on the presidency.
“He’s not running,” a powerful GOP source, close to Christie, told PolitickerNJ.com this morning. “Mary Pat has an objection.
“He has made significant headway trying to build this party,” said the source. “If he decides to run for president and more of the day-to-day goes to Guadagno, I do see the Democrats going on a more sustained attack.
The same sources uniformly say they would know by now if he were running.
However, just in case, they also admit the entreaties of GOP icons at Christie’s Reagan Library address earlier this week may have weakened his resolve. In short, they acknowledge he is unorthodox enough to blindside his New Jersey political lieutenants by reversing himself on his persistent no to running for president.
“You just never know with this guy,” said one Republican source.
“But I’m just telling you,” the source added. “I don’t see it. Yes, it’s compelling, but that Reagan ghost hand on the shoulder s**t is so hokey it ain’t even funny.”
As much as GOP legislators try to play down the effect of a Christie national exit, sources confirm Layton’s point that the loss would be devastating.
“I think what Chris Christie has done, whether he runs or not, has changed the conversation,” said Assembly Minority Conference Leader Jon Bramnick, (R-21), Westfield.
“He has changed the nature of New Jersey politics for a really long time,” added the Union County GOP legislator. “That message will last because the thirst has been created for voters. This is a train the public had gotten on and they won’t stand for the train slowing. If he runs, I’m convinced the party is fine.”
“Our governor is extremely popular and for good reason,” said Cape May County Regular Republican Chairman Michael Donohue. “To the extent that he raises his national profile – it’s only good for us.”
But public statements about the spirit of the party clash with off the record hand-wringing about a Christie vacuum.
“This guy has taken up all the oxygen,” said a GOP source. “No one has any identity in the party anymore – except Christie. He’s the undisputed leader. My fervent hope is he doesn’t run. He comes with a lot of core pieces and there is no doubt about their Christie-centrism: tough guy Stepien, strategist Palatucci, brilliant Rich Bagger – all Chris Christie.”
“Could you imagine (Lieutenant Governor) Kim Guadagno trying to run the show,” said one Republican source.