John Breglio, theater lawyer and producer of the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, was quoted on iblogbroadway.com saying: “I would never open any show without going out of town first; it would be virtually suicidal. Going out of town for at least four weeks is the bare, bare, bare minimum. If you can’t afford to do it, then don’t do the show.”
The practice of taking shows on a shakedown cruise to New Haven or Baltimore, or up to 12 cities, in some cases, before opening on Broadway, is a long-standing one for good reason. Working the kinks out before the New York critics can get their teeth into a show is hardly novel, nor is getting into a presidential race early—long before the debates, the national television appearances, and the microscopic scrutiny of every word or action, past or present, that comes once the campaign begins in earnest. A faux pas or less than politically advantageous explanation of a position can be quietly corrected early on; later on, such can be fatal or, at the very least, very damaging.
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On Tuesday afternoon, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will announce that he will not seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination or, put another way, he will not surrender to the siren song, the whisperings of people with a lot less at stake.
If Christie had run, he would immediately have faced intense pressure to raise money, touch base with thousands of critical state and GOP donor pooh-bahs, and cram on issues he never had to contemplate during his four years as a Morris County, N.J., freeholder, six years as a U.S. attorney, or 20 months as governor. And—oh, yes—he would still have been the CEO of a major state. It certainly must have been seductive having all of these people begging him to run, but ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry or Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., where those supporters went once the manure started hitting the fan.
Although few would argue with the proposition that a Republican who can win in Democratic-tilting New Jersey likely makes a very formidable general-election candidate, the question is whether the positions taken to win a moderate state make a bid for the GOP nomination particularly challenging (see Romney, Willard Mitt). While running for governor, The New Jersey Star-Ledger reported on Feb. 4, 2009: “In an interview, Christie today outlined his own positions on social issues, saying he evolved from pro-choice to pro-life with the birth of his children but would not use the governor’s office to ‘force that down people’s throats.’ However, he said he favors restrictions on abortion rights such as banning partial-birth abortions and requiring parental notification and a 24-hour waiting period.”
This is not a position that would have hurt Christie in a general election, but explaining it to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and other leaders in the social-conservative and evangelical movement might not have been a lot of fun. It creates the need to perform an awkward minuet; just ask Romney.
Christie also needed to consider what effect essentially becoming an absentee governor in a Democratic-leaning state would have had on his 2013 reelection chances. His approval numbers are OK now, but that hasn’t always been the case—and might not have been after a punishing, potentially unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination. Then what?
At this point, with states jockeying for calendar positioning, it looks like the Iowa caucuses will be either Jan. 2 or 3—only 10 weeks from now; and New Hampshire will be Jan. 10. This forward push, instigated by Florida, put even more pressure on Christie to make a quick decision. Florida, not content with just hosting the Republican National Convention and being a key general-election battleground state, felt the need to break RNC rules and elbow to the front of the calendar, setting off a scramble. A key Republican national committee member swears that if the convention could be moved from Tampa, it would be, but that the state will pay dearly for its decision to flaunt national rules.
But there was one more consideration. Let’s assume for a moment that Christie had run, won the nomination and the presidency. Then what? So many Republicans are practically hoarse from screaming that Barack Obama was unprepared for the job, fresh out of the Illinois Senate with just a two-year cameo in the U.S. Senate before embarking on his presidential bid; how was Christie more qualified? Christie gets points for holding an executive position, but with less than two years under his belt, he is far short of the gubernatorial experience of, say, Presidents Reagan or George W. Bush; or the Washington, federal, and foreign policy exposure of Sen. John McCain and then-Sen. Bob Dole or Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ford, and Nixon. Just because you can win, it doesn’t mean you are ready to serve; a lot of Republicans might say that was the case with Obama.
There were some pretty compelling reasons for Christie to enjoy the plaudits, capitalize on the enhanced national and intraparty stature, and prepare for a time when the arguments against his ability to serve effectively will be much less compelling.
This article appears in the Oct. 4, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.