The clock is ticking for presidential candidates to sway voters as Iowa and New Hampshire loom just a few days away. Thursday will mark the last GOP presidential debate where the candidates (minus Donald Trump, who has opted out) can take their messages to the national stage before Iowa.
According to some insiders, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his fellow-establishment candidates Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich are probably going to be facing significant pressure from the Republican establishment after the polls close in New Hampshire on February 9. That pressure will likely be centered on getting candidates to fall in line behind the highest establishment finisher in those early states the final hope of knocking Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz from where they sit as the early favorites to get the nomination.
One insider told PolitickerNJ that, in order for Christie to stay in the race after the New Hampshire primary, he would have to finish second to Trump or at least “in a strong third.” A finish lower than that would be a stretch without a real path forward, according to the source.
That lack of a way forward is looking more inevitable according to a recently released poll by Suffolk University. According to the poll, Trump sits at 27 percent in New Hampshire, Cruz and Kasich are tied at 12 percent, Bush at 11 percent, Rubio a ten percent and Christie coming in at just six percent. If the polls hold true, it is likely that candidates like Christie, Bush and Rubio will put their support behind Kasich.
The source also said that if an establishment candidate were to surprise and place in second, the others would have little to no choice but to back that candidate publicly. That consolidation of support bases would likely be the only chance for the anti-establishment dogma of Trump or Cruz to face eventual defeat, something that GOP officials and political pundits have been thinking would happen since Trump first announced his candidacy. At the time, no one thought his popularity would last but Trump has proven to have incredible staying power and his message has proven to resonate with the public.
According to another GOP source, Christie might cling to his presidential hopes if he places as low as fourth in New Hampshire, provided that the margins are slimmer than expected. The source said that whoever places below that threshold is “toast” and cannot realistically stay in the race. He also said it would be more effective, at that point, to back another candidate, namely, whoever came in third after Trump and, most likely, Cruz. Despite that, he said that because the gaggle of GOP candidates is “so jumbled” and so close it is likely that only those who come in fifth or lower will officially exit after NH.
The source said that after New Hampshire, there is likely going to be a sharp drop off in candidates. He speculated that barely-registering candidates like former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Retired Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee would quickly exit after New Hampshire.
Throughout the course of his campaign, Christie has been blasting senators like Rubio as too inexperienced to be Commander in Chief. According to the sources, however, he would likely back Rubio regardless of those comments if he were to be that high finisher that becomes the GOP establishment’s last hope for the White House in 2016.
“He would prefer it to be one of the two governors but I don’t think he would somehow withhold support from Rubio for no reason,” a source said.
According to another source, Christie’s blasting of a candidate like Rubio during this pre-primary stage of the campaign will likely have little impact if he were to have a legitimate shot at becoming the nominee. The source recalled how now-Vice President Joe Biden often waged those same criticisms of President Barack Obama before he was elected and eventually went on to complete Obama’s ticket in 2008.
Without Trump’s larger-than-life persona to suck up all the air at tonight’s debate, candidates like Christie might have a chance to make that final stand to improve their numbers though it is unlikely that Trump’s absence will cut his lead by any perceivable amount. Christie’s recent snafus, however, might mean he has reached the end of the road whether Trump is standing in the way or not.
Tonight’s debate will air at 9 p.m. on Fox News and Google. It will immediately follow the early debate, which starts at 7 p.m.