Ross Douthat assesses the 2016 Republican presidential race here, and I have to admit that he has a point about why Chris Christie can win, even in ever-crazier GOP:
Now of course as the Rubios and Jindals have stumbled, Paul and Cruz have emerged as conservative stars -- and if either of them clears the rightward side of the field early, and Christie remains the moderate favorite, we'll be in for an interesting, entertaining race. But would it be a race that either of the populists can actually win? ... 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?Douthat is absolutely right about the beer-and-a-shot appeal of Christie to people who were Republicans (and possibly, prior to that, Reagan Democrats) long before there was a Fox News or 24/7 right-wing talk radio. In Macomb County, Michigan, Chris Christie's going to seem like a hometown boy to a lot of voters. He's going to seem like a familiar archetype to a lot of Florida's Frost Belt expats, too.
In theory, it ought to be possible to have tea party cred and old-fashioned Rust Belt appeal, but no wingnut favorite ever seems to. Rick Santorum could have if he'd talked more about his love of beer than about his hatred of sex. (And even on the subject of beer, Santorum is more a connoisseur than a Joe Sixpack.)
The favorites of the crazies never have a plan to win the big states. They never have a plan for amassing enough cash and they never have the retail political skill. It's as if they don't seem to care, or think there's something noble about being done in by a hated RINO with a fat bankroll. (We know from the shutdown that teabaggers see failure as proof of nobility and virtue.)
In this way, the wingnut candidates almost seem like the most earnest of indie rockers -- they'd rather be pure than sell out, maaaan. And that does give Christie (or whoever fills the McCain/Romney slot in 2016) a serious advantage.