Over on the homepage, my colleague David French calls on low-polling Republican candidates to think hard about their prospects — and, if they can muster the humility, to drop out. I second that call, with a few caveats.
First (and here I’ll burnish my RINO squish bona fides), were this a more temperate campaign season, the dropouts would be Carson and Trump, the former because, though a good man and a medical miracle-worker, his policy chops have not greatly improved since I saw him on the campaign trail in mid June, and the latter because he’s a flaxen-pelted carpetbagger unsuited to manage a highway Burger King, let alone the government of the United States. Among the outsiders, Fiorina is the only one, to my mind, who has consistently demonstrated the rhetorical and policy seriousness that befit the role of presidential candidate. (Whether that translates into readiness for the office is a separate question.) Not to mention she was spot-on last night: I desperately want to see her debate Hillary. I’m with Ben Sasse: I’ll crowd-fund that debate if necessary.
But that’s not the way things are unfolding, so the hairy eyeball must be turned on Huckabee, Santorum, Paul, Kasich, et al. The arguments here are not difficult to see: Carson and Trump share the Iowa voters who gravitated to Huck in 2008 and to Santorum in 2012, and if Carson or Trump were to collapse, Cruz is the natural fallback, especially after last night’s Gingrich-esque performance. Cruz is also poised to rope in Rand Paul voters; last night he made sure to note that he was an “original co-sponsor” of Paul’s bill to audit the Federal Reserve, he touted abolishing the IRS, and he mentioned putting American money back on the gold standard.
As for John Kasich, he pummeled his way to the third-most speaking time last night (9 minutes, 42 seconds), but people didn’t want Jon Huntsman in 2012, and there’s no indication that they want this angrier Beta version.
Setting aside, then, Graham, Jindal, and Pataki (sorry, but), that leaves Chris Christie. And while the New Jersey governor is polling just below Kasich, he’s the one low-number guy who might stick around for a bit. Christie had a good debate last month, and he had an even better one last night, outshined only by Rubio and Cruz. On matters of policy, there are reasons aplenty to look askance at Christie. In March, City Journal senior editor Steven Malanga chronicled Christie’s mixed economic record for National Review, and back in 2012 Andy McCarthy gave him a scathing dressing down. Still, it’s impossible to deny that Christie has a natural political talent, which was on display last night. When the moderators asked Jeb Bush whether fantasy football should be regulated as gambling, Christie stole the question with what amounted to a “Srsly?”:
Are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football? Wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt, we have people out of work, we have ISIS and Al Qaeda attacking us and we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? Can we stop? Seriously?
Not long after, he blasted moderator John Harwood: “Even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called ‘rude.’”
His famous combativeness can grow tiresome, but Christie can be both feisty and likeable, and when the combination is in balance — as it was last night — it cuts through the bilious fog that tends to build on debate stages. It’s difficult to imagine Christie winning the nomination, but it’s not hard to imagine him providing more air-clearing moments like these, which could work to the benefit of the field as a whole.
I’m pleased to see that, over at The Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last seems to agree:
Christie was as impressive tonight as he could be, given his position. . . . If the establishment had jumped on Christie early, instead of being scared off by the GW bridge scandal and going for Bush . . . well, this race would probably be different. But they didn’t. That said, we’ll keep Christie in our final grouping because he’s so talented that he’s always going to have a puncher’s chance.
In last night’s wake, Last suggests that the race is effectively down to six, perhaps even four: “Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, and maybe—just maybe—Fiorina and Christie.”
That sounds about right to me.