Republicans holding out for a hero

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Image copyright Reuters
Image caption New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has publicly insisted he will not be running for president

He's a big man for a big job, according to a leading conservative pundit.

But the Republican clamour for Chris Christie to throw his hat into the presidential ring says more about the stature of the current candidates than the political heft of the New Jersey governor.

I've no idea whether Mr Christie will run.

Maybe he's just being polite to all those big names, from Henry Kissinger to Nancy Reagan, who want him in the race, before saying "no" yet again. Maybe he has already decided to go for it and is just working out the final strategy.

But the very fact that he is the focus of so much attention shows just how unhappy Republicans are with the current lot on offer.

When I ask senior Republicans to pick their favourite candidate, more often than not they say "none of the above".

They think President Barack Obama is eminently beatable. They just have to have the right candidate. And that's a problem.

They are in this bind largely because of the Tea Party. The energy and passion of this loose grouping of angry conservatives has made the party relevant after a crushing defeat in 2008.

Conservatism, charisma competence

Without the Tea Party, the Republicans would never have made such big gains in last autumn's mid-term elections.

But there's a "but".

The Tea Party has also had a huge impact on the contest for the Republican nomination, not all of it positive for the party.

The Tea Party influence means that serious centrist candidates like Jon Huntsman don't stand a chance, and many others like him will have been discouraged from standing.

It means that there are a whole clutch of candidates in the race, even though they have little appeal to swing voters, and earn the disdain of the party hierarchy.

It is the Tea Party that could well do in leading contender Mitt Romney because they don't consider him sufficiently conservative.

Mind you, it's not just the Tea Party that is unimpressed by Mr Romney.

He is the other problem for the party. He ticks all the right boxes, looks like a president, has the right experience, but fails to generate any enthusiasm.

So far, he has easily out-performed the others in the TV debates, but still seems wooden and old fashioned and just doesn't inspire.

The danger is that the Republicans can't stop looking for a hero, a man or woman on a white horse, to ride to their rescue.

If Governor Christie stands, maybe he's the genuine article. Maybe the grassroots right and the country club crowd can coalesce around a candidate who does seem to combine conservatism, charisma and competence.

But I remember a time just a few months ago when I was at a Republican conference in New Orleans.

There was much the same buzz around Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The general view was that the field was inadequate, but if only Mr Perry joined everything would be different.

Now he's in, and they're still desperately looking for a hero.

If Mr Christie answers the call, my guess is in a month's time the desperate calls will go out to Jeb Bush.

Or Marco Rubio. Or Bobby Jindal. Come to that, what's Nancy Reagan doing these days?

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