Let me put it another way. Do any of these candidates match Christie’s preternatural ability to explain Republican deficit-reduction ideas without coming off as bloodless budget-cutters?
I’ve spent some time following Christie across New Jersey, to town-hall meetings mainly, but also on visits to social-service agencies and, most entertainingly, to a Bruce Springsteen concert in Newark. His town halls are famous for their confrontational tone, but in truth, shouting matches are rare. What isn’t rare are huge, overflow crowds. I attended events, mainly in high-school gymnasiums, over the past few months, and at each one fire marshals had to cap attendance.
Why do people come by the hundreds to weekday morning meetings in small towns? Because Christie gives them something they want. Not so much the sarcasm (which can be enjoyable), but the skillful, tenacious and blunt articulation of just where New Jersey’s government has gone off the rails — in its budget-making, in its management of state-worker pensions and in its uncanny ability to create unfunded mandates. No one in national politics does a better job of arguing against deficit spending than Christie.
An easy prediction: Christie would be filling basketball arenas with wildly enthusiastic fiscal conservatives within two weeks of being chosen as Romney’s running mate.
Another easy prediction: It ain’t going to happen.
The downside risk of a Christie pick is fairly small. But from what I understand, Romney is looking for someone who presents no downside at all. This comprehensive aversion to risk might be at the core of the problems plaguing his campaign. If the campaign does figure out that it needs to balance Romney’s upper-crust manner with someone who has actual middle-class, even working-class, credentials, it might very well go with Pawlenty. Pawlenty lost his nerve in the Republican primaries, but he was a talented governor.
Can he energize arenas crammed with Republicans looking for inspiration? Doubtful. But nothing the Romney campaign has done so far suggests that it is interested in energizing voters.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for The Atlantic.