Christie rules himself out

The New Jersey Governor's decision not to stand for the 2012 GOP candidacy makes life much easier fo

For weeks it seemed he had been preparing the ground for a run at the White House, but on Tuesday Chris Christie, the charismatic Republican Governor of New Jersey who has long enjoyed support among Democratic voters, officially ruled himself out of the race to be the GOP 2012 presidential candidate. In a carefully choreographed press conference at his statehouse in Trenton, on a stage bedecked with the Stars and Stripes, Christie told the assembled national media that "[although] serious people from across the spectrum, not to mention from all across the country, had passionately [called on me to run]... now is not my time".

Christie had been encouraged to enter the field by a number of high profile figures on the American right - including Henry Kissinger and Rudy Giuliani - after Rick Perry, the former front-runner, stumbled in the latest round of TV debates. He had also won the backing of some extremely wealthy and influential Republican donaors, not least industrialist David Koch and hedge fund manager Paul Singer. It is likely their support will now transfer to Mitt Romney, a centrist with a track record of fiscal conservatism.

Unlike Christie, however, Romney is deeply unpopular with the GOP's Tea Party contingent, which considers his role in implementing a version of Obama's healthcare legislation as Governor of Massachusetts tantamount to treason. It is also wary of his apparent inconsistency on flagship 'moral' issues like gay marriage and stem-cell research. Yet the fact is, his chances of winning the candidacy stand or fall on his ability to persuade the grass-roots radicals that, despite looking, sounding and acting like a moderate with occasional liberal sympathies, he is really one of them.

Romney's dilemma is indicative of the wider challenge facing the Republicans in their bid to remove Obama from office next year. On the one hand the party has to put up a nominee capable of galvanising an activist base which sits well the right of the American mainstream, and on the other it has to find someone who appeals to the politically moderate majority. Perry, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul can do the former but probably not the latter, while Romney and Jon Huntsman can achieve the latter but probably not the former.

Conversely, in President Obama the Democrats have a candidate perfectly equipped to achieve such a feat of triangulation. Having committed himself to a deficit reduction strategy based largely on public spending cuts, he will be able to draw in the right of his own party and the left of the Republicans. At the same time, the $450bn employment package he announced last month will go some way toward securing the votes of the lower-middle and working class constituency which propelled him to victory in 2008, but which has since grown disgruntled with his presidency.

It is likely Christie took all this into account when he made his decision not to stand. In his Tuesday media address he was, however, careful not to rule out a future tilt at Washington. 2012 is going to be a tough year for the Republicans. 2016 may not be so be quite so difficult.

James Maxwell is a Scottish political journalist. He is based between Scotland and London.

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In the race to be France's next president, keep an eye on Arnaud Montebourg

Today's Morning Call. 

Good morning. As far as the Brexit talks are concerned, the least important voters are here in Britain. Whether UK plc gets a decent Brexit deal depends a lot more on who occupies the big jobs across Europe, and how stable they feel in doing so.

The far-right Freedom Party in Austria may have been repudiated at the presidential level but they still retain an interest in the legislative elections (due to be held by 2018). Both Lega Nord and Five Star in Italy will hope to emerge as the governing party at the next Italian election.

Some Conservative MPs are hoping for a clean sweep for the Eurosceptic right, the better to bring the whole EU down, while others believe that the more vulnerable the EU is, the better a deal Britain will get. The reality is that a European Union fearing it is in an advanced state of decay will be less inclined, not more, to give Britain a good deal. The stronger the EU is, the better for Brexit Britain, because the less attractive the exit door looks, the less of an incentive to make an example of the UK among the EU27.

That’s one of the many forces at work in next year’s French presidential election, which yesterday saw the entry of Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, into the race to be the Socialist Party’s candidate.

Though his star has fallen somewhat among the general public from the days when his opposition to halal supermarkets as mayor of Evry, and his anti-Roma statements as interior minister made him one of the most popular politicians in France, a Valls candidacy, while unlikely to translate to a finish in the top two for the Socialists could peel votes away from Marine Le Pen, potentially allowing Emanuel Macron to sneak into second place.

But it’s an open question whether he will get that far. The name to remember is Arnaud Montebourg, the former minister who quit Francois Hollande’s government over its right turn in 2014. Although as  Anne-Sylvaine Chassany reports, analysts believe the Socialist party rank-and-file has moved right since Valls finished fifth out of sixth in the last primary, Montebourg’s appeal to the party’s left flank gives him a strong chance.

Does that mean it’s time to pop the champagne on the French right? Monteburg may be able to take some votes from the leftist independent, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and might do some indirect damage to the French Thatcherite Francois Fillon. His supporters will hope that his leftist economics will peel away supporters of Le Pen, too.

One thing is certain, however: while the chances of a final run-off between Le Pen and Fillon are still high,  Hollande’s resignation means that it is no longer certain that the centre and the left will not make it to that final round.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

The government began its case at the Supreme Court yesterday, telling justices that the creation of the European Communities Act, which incorporates the European treaties into British law automatically, was designed not to create rights but to expedite the implementation of treaties, created through prerogative power. The government is arguing that Parliament, through silence, has accepted that all areas not defined as within its scope as prerogative powers. David Allen Green gives his verdict over at the FT.

MO’MENTUM, MO’PROBLEMS

The continuing acrimony in Momentum has once again burst out into the open after a fractious meeting to set the organisation’s rules and procedures, Jim Waterson reports over at BuzzFeed.  Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder, still owns the data and has the ability to shut down the entire group, should he chose to do so, something he is being urged to do by allies. I explain the origins of the crisis here.

STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE  BEFORE

Italy’s oldest bank, Monte Paschi, may need a state bailout after its recapitalisation plan was thrown into doubt following Matteo Renzi’s resignation. Italy’s nervous bankers will wait to see if  €1bn of funds from a Qatari investment grouping will be forthcoming now that Renzi has left the scene.

BOOM BOOM

Strong growth in the services sector puts Britain on course to be the highest growing economy in the G7. But Mark Carney has warned that the “lost decade” of wage growth and the unease from the losers from globalisation must be tackled to head off the growing tide of “isolation and detachment”.

THE REPLACEMENTS

David Lidington will stand in for Theresa May, who is abroad, this week at Prime Ministers’ Questions. Emily Thornberry will stand in for Jeremy Corbyn.

QUIT PICKING ON ME!

Boris Johnson has asked Theresa May to get her speechwriters and other ministers to stop making jokes at his expense, Sam Coates reports in the Times. The gags are hurting Britain’s diplomatic standing, the Foreign Secretary argues.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas! And to help you on your way, here’s Anna’s top 10 recommendations for Christmassy soundtracks.

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Why I’m concerned about people’s “very real concerns” on migration

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Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.