Think about the map: To beat a candidate with Christie’s profile one on one, either Paul or Cruz would need to win Florida and then at least part of the industrial Midwest — the places where first McCain in 2008 and then Romney in 2012 successfully fended off the challenges from the right. Does Ted Cruz, whose resume is part Ivy League elite and part Texan evangelical, and whose father probably sets off every non-evangelical alarm bell there is, somehow win enough middle class Catholic Republicans to beat an Irish-Italian former prosecutor in Ohio and Michigan? Does Rand Paul, who veers between showing remarkable political savvy and indulging in not-ready-for-prime-time fumbling, really have what it takes to fundraise, organize, and win in big, not-deep-red states? Especially amid polls showing, as they probably would, that neither of them would fare as well as Christie in a general-election matchup against You Know Wh(illary)o?
Larison agrees that Christie has some major advantages:
The best chance of blocking Christie or any other relative moderate candidate is to have one or more other candidates running that can siphon off some of his moderate and “somewhat conservative” support. There are hardly any likely candidates that would fit that description, and they would have little incentive to compete in the same year as Christie. His re-election win will have the effect of discouraging other would-be relative moderate candidates from running. That is the argument for Christie-as-juggernaut in the 2016 race.
Millman adds his two cents:
Chris Christie is now officially the only Republican with broad popular appeal. No, that appeal is not deep – most people know absolutely nothing about him, and they may come to hate him once they get to know him. Yes, he won against an extraordinarily weak opponent – but if the Democrats thought they had a solid chance of beating him, they would have put up someone stronger. And yes, some of the juicy targets he’s aimed at in New Jersey are not nearly so juicy at the Federal level. None of that matters right now. Right now, the Electability Caucus in the Republican Party has a reasonable candidate. And his most plausible opponent for that title is surnamed “Bush.”
Beinart, on the other hand, points out the challenges Christie will face:
I’m not saying Christie can’t get the GOP nomination. But if he does, his path will be more like the one John McCain unsuccessfully pursued in 2000 than the one Bush took. Like McCain, Christie—who probably can’t win in conservative Iowa and South Carolina—instead will focus on states such as New Hampshire, where independents can vote in the Republican primary. That means unlike Bush, who entered the general election with the GOP’s conservative base already sewn up, Christie will have to spend the weeks following his nomination victory mending fences with the Tea Party activists who didn’t vote for him. He’ll have to do so while also significantly outperforming Bush among the young, female, and minority voters who loathe the GOP’s Ted Cruz-wing.