Skip to main content

Will Jeb Bush end Christie's chances?

By Errol Louis, CNN Commentator
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Errol Louis: "Bridgegate" has hurt Christie's chances, cleared way for Jeb Bush in 2016
  • He says Christie and rising Bush both seen as moderates in fractured GOP
  • He says polls favor Bush over Christie and donors leaning toward ex-Florida governor
  • Louis: Bush faces no scandal, can appeal to Latinos on immigration issues

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Politics abhors a vacuum, and the "Bridgegate scandal" engulfing Chris Christie has severely compromised the New Jersey governor's ability to launch a campaign for president, opening a space that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, seems likely to fill.

"The idea that he's the prohibitive front-runner is over" is how one Republican strategist described Christie's plight to the conservative National Review.

At stake is the future of the Republican Party, which has been divided for several years by a simmering fight between factions -- ultra-conservative Tea Party activists and more moderate establishment figures who control key party offices.

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

Christie and Bush are both frequently mentioned as mainstream candidates that the establishment would like to see run in 2016. But Christie's status as a party favorite has faltered, while Bush appears to be on the rise.

The contrast was on display at Saturday's White House Correspondents' Dinner, the high-profile, televised black-tie event in which the nation's media and political elites take satirical jabs at one another. Nobody got rougher treatment from the podium than Christie, especially from comedian Joel McHale, the evening's emcee.

"I promise that tonight will be both amusing and over quickly -- just like Chris Christie' s presidential bid," quipped McHale, who later harped on the apparently politically motivated traffic tie-up near the George Washington Bridge that has led to the firing and resignation of top Christie aides. "Finally, a politician willing to stand up to America's commuters," deadpanned McHale.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said his decision to run for the Republican nomination will be based on two things -- his family and whether he can lift America's spirit. His father and brother formerly served as President. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said his decision to run for the Republican nomination will be based on two things -- his family and whether he can lift America's spirit. His father and brother formerly served as President.
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
Potential 2016 presidential candidates Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Bush or Clinton in 2016?
Joel McHale zings Christie

Bush, by contrast, escaped with a passing mention as a top presidential contender.

Christie's bad news shows up in polls that can't be dismissed as a joke. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll of all Americans, Bush ranked at the top of a list of Republican presidential contenders with a 14% showing; Christie's was 10%. A Fox News poll taken last month shows that among Republicans, Bush has a 52% approval rating compared with Christie's 46%.

After talking with more than 24 top Republican donors, reporters from The New York Times concluded in a recent article that "some of them are signaling to Mr. Christie's camp that, should Mr. Bush enter the race, their first loyalty would be to him, not to Mr. Christie."

That's a sea change from recent years, when Christie, a prodigious fund-raiser, wielded tight control over his New Jersey donors. According to Washington Post commentator Dan Balz, when candidate Mitt Romney came seeking support, in 2011, Christie said he told him: "If you raise money in New Jersey in any kind of aggressive, organized way, it's going to make it very unlikely that I'll be able to support you."

Things have changed. With Christie hemorrhaging support, a number of New Jersey heavy hitters are now openly agonizing over whether to stick with Christie or invest in a Bush candidacy. Bush brings multiple advantages: Having a father and brother who were presidents means there are legions of Republicans, across multiple generations, who owe personal and political loyalty to the closest thing the GOP has to a royal family.

On the hot-button issue of immigration reform, Bush has staked out an independent position, calling on Republicans to move away from "harsh rhetoric" on the issue and co-authoring a book on the subject -- an implicit recognition that winning the White House in 2016 will require support from Latinos and other pro-immigration voters.

Most importantly, Bush remains untouched by scandal, while Christie must cope with a scandal that just won't go away. Last week, an attorney for David Samson, a close adviser and mentor of Christie's, announced that Samson will not answer subpoenas from a state legislative committee investigating Bridgegate, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

It's another crippling blow to Christie's presidential hopes. Samson, named by Christie to serve as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, oversaw the multibillion-dollar agency that runs the George Washington Bridge until he was forced to resign as the scandal unfolded.

Samson is the most prominent among several Christie aides who have quit or been fired and have now lawyered up. That means we'll see court fights around memos, meetings and other crucial evidence for months to come -- months during which Christie's nascent candidacy will continue to decline, leaving Bush looking like the white knight for which the Republican establishment has been waiting.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT