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The Four Year Campaign

The Republican presidential race seems particularly mad this year. But is it laying the foundations for a much more measured race four years from now?

James Katz

Naked Politics Blogger 

The Presidential race seems to have been going on for forever and a day. It is difficult to remember a time where we have not been subject to a perpetual conveyor belt of nonsense surrounding this year’s candidates. Whether it is Hillary Clinton’s emails or Donald Trump wanting to ban Muslims coming to America, it feels like not a day goes by without the race to the White House getting even more ridiculous.

It seems to me, however, that for some of the candidates they are actually looking at the election in 2020 rather than the one this year.

This is an election of great extremes and has laid bare the polarised nature of the American electorate. Whilst many have been dragged to the right and inspired by the likes of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz an almost equal number have moved to the left and flocked to Bernie Sanders. What links Cruz, Trump and Sanders is that we have not seen candidates like them before.

Whilst there is still an excellent chance that a more ‘mainstream’ candidate like Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton will be moving into the Oval Office come November, there are many good, traditional candidates that have and will fall by the wayside this year. Here I am thinking of the likes of Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker. All three have already pulled out of the race but are they playing the long game? Is their real opportunity 4 or even 8 years ahead? I believe, for one man in particular, it may well be.

Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey is a charismatic personality, effective orator and considered policy-maker. Whilst I personally disagree with many of his beliefs, they are grounded in political theory and have been tested in the past; this cannot be said of Trump whose ideas are as manic as they are empty. Even Bernie Sanders’ policies, though more theoretically robust, have not been applied to an economy like the economy of United States in 2016 – we have no way of knowing whether they will work.

Christie may still be in this year’s race because he thinks he can win, but if so I think he may be in a population of 1 who think that. A fiery performance in the most recent debate may give his campaign an extra few weeks but he will need a miracle to stay the distance.

Rubio’s good third-placed performance in Iowa means he is likely to emerge as the establishment rival to Trump and Cruz. Strong results in New Hampshire and then South Carolina for Rubio will starve Christie and other candidates of funds and mean many will probably bail before Super Tuesday on March 1st, including Christie.

This short-term failing could yet turn into a long-term success.

2016 could well be a Presidential election year of one-off madness; an unseemly blot on what is usually a quirky but (the power of big money aside) generally positive display of democracy. By November, the American public could well grow weary of the current craziness or, should one of the extreme candidates win, of the inevitable gridlock that will follow. The American people, and especially the Republican Party, may be desperate for the return of rational normality by 2020.

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Christie is well placed to do this. The fact he (and to a lesser extent the other mentioned candidates) has established good fund-raising streams and organisational structures may give him a head start four years from now.

We have seen something similar in recent years. In 2008 Mitt Romney fought a decent if unexceptional campaign before losing the nomination to John McCain. 4 years later he was back and romping to the candidacy before performing well in the Presidential election. Romney never really stopped campaigning and fund-raising in the three-year interlude between elections. As a result we will be able to tell fairly swiftly whether Christie is trying a similar trick.

Bullish debate performances and selective policy stands – like recently not opposing abortion after rape or incest, in difference to his Republican rivals – are bringing him into the national Republican limelight.

Christie is all but done for this year’s, but his 4-year plan my well be on track.

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