But if Larison can’t think of any reason why Republican primary voters might prefer Christie to Huntsman, then I would submit that he needs to spend a little more time in front of the television (or on YouTube) and familiarize himself with their respective public personae.
I am familiar with the differences. Christie cultivates and seems to revel in a combative style, and Huntsman has a diplomatic one. Huntsman goes out of his way to distance himself from the majority of Republicans, and Christie basks in their overwrought adulation. Even if I don’t quite get the hero-worship that goes along with it, I can understand why many Republicans are interested in Christie. Most of them don’t know much about him, except the outtakes from Christie’s public appearances that his team circulates and the glowing coverage from conservative media that he receives. It’s also worth noting that many of them do not know anything about him. If he were running, it would not be hard for competing campaigns to drive up his negatives quickly and easily.
He isn’t going to run, but if he did his ideological flaws and underwhelming debate performances would dog him just as they have dogged Perry. There really would be no reason to expect him to win a lot of support, much less become the default rallying-point for dissatisfied voters. Christie occupies more or less the same political space as Romney inside the GOP, and he is actually well to the left of Romney c. 2011 on at least a couple of issues. There just isn’t much room in the field for a challenge to Romney by a candidate with an overall more moderate profile than Romney. Charisma is important, but it isn’t magic.
My point wasn’t that primary voters can’t or won’t overlook candidates’ ideological differences. When talking about Romney’s chances, I have acknowledged that many primary voters aren’t demanding ideological purity. This is one reason why the elites’ search to find someone to replace Romney (which is what the Christie boomlet represents) seems so odd. If someone felt compelled to search for an alternative to Romney and Perry, there would be no need to look outside the current field. It is strange that some party elites are desperately clamoring for a last-minute Christie bid when Huntsman was already available to be turned into the acceptable alternative. I won’t discount the importance of a candidate’s visceral appeal, but I would point out that the things that conservatives may find viscerally appealing in politicians also tend to be the things that make them politically toxic to many others.