Paul Ryan's selection as Mitt Romney's running mate was likely the single most polarizing decision of the election season so far, exhilarating the Ayn Randian conservative fringe while enraging anyone with even the slightest progressive bone in their body. Except, as Politico has now learned, Ryan was far from the inevitable pick — in fact, Romney's first choice was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie was long considered the perfect brash foil to the robotically patrician Romney.
As one Romney adviser tells Politico's Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei:
Mitt liked [Christie] because he saw him as a street fighter. It’s the kind of political mentality that Romney doesn’t have, but admires. He wanted someone who could play the Chicago game [like Obama headquarters] on its own terms.
Christie would also reach white, rugged, working-class men in a way that Paul Ryan — the bookish policy wonk — could never do, no matter how many times he pretended to be blue-collar. That same adviser:
Ohio is the only battleground state where Mitt has a net negative gender gap — where his approval among men doesn’t outweigh the president’s approval among women. Chris Christie changes that.
In other words, Christie could've been just what Romney needed in the final stretch, with Obama leading in Ohio by up to six points. Christie was also one of the first GOP luminaries to endorse Romney, way back in October 2011, and has, since then, been one of Romney's strongest campaign surrogates, alternatively eviscerating Obama's first term as "hopeless and changeless" and famously joking at a Virginia rally last month that the president is "like a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can’t find it."
So what dissuaded Romney?
Maybe he just wanted someone who would stick to a script, reportedly deciding on Ryan during his tumultuous gaffe-prone overseas trip earlier this summer. Christie, as we well know, has a short fuse and an explosive temper. (Exhibit A: him calling a town hall questioner an "idiot" and a reporter "stupid" earlier this year.) As one Romney aide told Politico: "The explosiveness had some risk."
Christie is also that rare political species, the straight shooter, who isn't easily kept on message, advising Romney back in January to stop stalling and release his tax returns, and later rebuffing a condition that he step down as governor if picked because he just wasn't 100 percent convinced Obama would lose.
Perhaps most of all, Romney and his team were increasingly aware that Christie just doesn't play second fiddle quietly. He's used to being the loudest instrument in the room, like with his Republican National Convention speech, which seemed heavy on the Christie and light on the Romney. (Hence, Romney's pained expression throughout.) As one Romney adviser remembers, after seeing a copy of the speech, "we told him that we thought there were more opportunities for him to put in stuff about Mitt, and he didn’t take the hint." Or maybe Christie was just miffed he didn't get the veep nod.
Or that he was kept in the dark for two whole weeks, left to believe he was still in contention. Peeved, could he have decided to get back at Romney by effusively praising President Obama throughout the post-Sandy cleanup? Maybe, or maybe he was just thankful for the federal government's help. Regardless, Rush Limbaugh smells a traitor and Rupert Murdoch tweeted that Christie "must re-declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years."