Christie Uncertainty Harming GOP

Thursday, 29 Sep 2011 12:41 PM

By Chris Freind

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Here's a message to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Take care of business or get off the pot. The "Is he running for president?" story has to end, right now.

Your indecision is hurting the Republican Party, and, ironically, giving Barack Obama a much needed reprieve. The time for games is over. It's in or out.

Christie is a firebrand, an extremely effective governor who has done what few thought possible: reform bloated pensions, institute public-sector union reforms, and balance the budget without raising taxes. And all that was accomplished with a Democratic legislature. It doesn't get any more bipartisan, and miraculous, than that.

But more than anything, Christie's hallmark is his brusque, straightforward style. He tells it like it is, from state finances ("the state is going to go broke" without reform) to yelling at people to "get the hell off the beach" before an impending hurricane.

Sure, some view him as "in-your-face," but Christie is far from rude. He simply expresses himself in a concise, matter-of-fact way. And in politics, that is rare.

Most endearing is that Christie speaks from the heart — no teleprompters or note cards. His passion and sometimes aggressive style belies a very articulate leader, one whose charisma has won over more than a few adversaries.

People may not agree with Christie, but they always know where he stands. As a result, he has achieved national status because he embodies what Americans crave: a leader refusing to dance the Political Two-Step to avoid tough issues.

Until now.

The governor made a speech this week which was covered by the national media. It provided the golden opportunity to end speculation about ambitions for 2012.

In one fell swoop, Christie could have revealed his intentions, and in that unmistakable Christie way, put an exclamation point on his decision so that questions would cease.

But he didn't. Instead, he left the door wide open.

In doing so, for the first time, he looked political. Dare we say it, but it almost seemed like he was doing the Trenton Shuffle.

And that's not the Chris Christie we know.

His past statements that he is not running are meaningless. All politicians say such things, and it was too early for even Christie to be wholly believed. But it's a different ballgame now. The primaries begin in four months, which is barely enough time to organize a campaign.

Could Christie overcome such obstacles? Absolutely, but only if he announces within days. Should he ultimately not run, however, the problem with his nondecision is that it's hurting the only two viable Republicans: Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

Because of the Christie factor, significant uncertainty remains among Republican powerbrokers, donors, elected officials, and the grass roots. Instead of a clear-cut race, the battle lines remain blurred, so many of these folks are sitting on the sidelines, withholding money, effort and endorsements until Christie makes a decision.

As a result, the front-runners have lost momentum as donations and support stagnate, and they have been taken off message. Because of the Christie buzz, anything Perry and Romney say is simply white noise.

Most damaging, however, is that Barack Obama has been given a reprieve. As president, he is driving the ship, which is listing badly. So any opportunity that takes the political focus off of himself is greatly welcomed.

Until the Christie rumor mill is shut down, the president will be able to regroup and attempt to stabilize his situation. It's not a panacea, but it certainly helps.

While that was not Christie's intention, it is reality.

One of several things is true:

1. Christie has no intention of running, but is badly underestimating how closely people are hanging on his every word.

2. Christie is definitely running, taking advantage of millions in free media coverage. While a brilliant strategy, its shelf life is measured in days, and will backfire if played too long. One cannot run a stealth campaign for president.

3. He really hasn't made up his mind yet.

The last scenario is most troubling, because if a candidate's heart is not in a race, but he chooses to run anyway, it will be a total failure. The American people can sense such insincerity immediately.

Need proof? Ask Fred Thompson. (And conversely, a tip of the hat to Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels, who both admitted they were lacking the fire in the belly in deciding not to run).

I have been fortunate to have had a front row seat covering some of Gov. Christie's triumphs, seeing firsthand the progress one man can make. It would be a shame to see that legacy tarnished by indecision.

So with all due respect, Mr. Christie, given the impending political hurricane, let me paraphrase a popular governor by saying, "Get the hell in or out of the race!

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, He can be reached at

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