I found this in the drafts section from a few years back. It’s pretty clear things have gone in a different direction.
Here’s what I wrote then…
In a shameless bit of link bait, Joe Concha of Mediaite suggested Chris Christie could run for President as an Independent in 2016.
It’s very unlikely, but he could be a strong Independent candidate.
It requires a rare set of circumstances, including both parties nominating candidates who are either extreme or uninspiring. It would also help if a presidential nominee has a major gaffe, although the people talented enough to win presidential nominations tend not to say factually incorrect things about rape and pregnancy to interviewers.
Americans Elect showed that there can be a network in place for a strong independent candidate. 2012 wasn’t the year for that since Obama and Romney were close enough to the center, at least as far as voters were concerned, but also appealing enough to the base to avoid a strong challenge from the far-left or the far-right.
Christie is far more likely to run as a Republican, as there’s more of a precedent for that as a way to win the presidency. He has a strong chance of winning the primary in 2016 (especially if Rubio, Cruz, Ryan, Rand Paul and others split the more conservative vote) but he could also remain in contention for some time, in a party that has often later rewarded also-rans.
It’s quite unlikely, but it is worth noting that organizations like Americans Elect could help a top-tier third party candidate get on the ballot in every state, which negates some of the institutional difficulties. 2012 wasn’t really the year for a third-party centrist as Romney and Obama were closer to the center than many within the party, but not so far from the base as to inspire a significant challenger from the extremes. There may be an opening for a nationally known centrist if the two parties nominate candidates who aren’t particularly inspiring to Independents (in terms of political positions or charisma.)
So let’s assume Republicans nominate Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and Democrats nominate Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland. Ted Cruz chooses North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (whose public issue statements were more conservative than any other Republican Governor, according to Nate Silver) as his running mate. Martin O’Malley chooses North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp as his running mate.
Chris Christie chooses billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates of Washington as his running mate. In 2008, McCain wanted his campaign to consider out of the box choices like Bill Gates for Veep. Christie’s choices do seem limited, as he would otherwise have to pick among Independent-minded Republicans (which could make it even easier to split the right-leaning vote) and Independent-minded Democrats (can’t think of any who might leave the party.) But a Bill Gates would allow him to argue an ability to change politics as usual.
Three person campaigns are quite unpredictable. It is worth noting just how insane the 1992 presidential election was, the last time an independent got more than fifteen percent. The uncumbent President whose party had won the previous three presidential elections got less than 38 percent of the vote. As a cautionary tale for Independents, Ross Perot got zero electoral votes despite winning 18.9% of the vote. Although he did run a chaotic campaign.
Looking back at this now, I got some stuff wrong. I really overestimated Americans Elect, which didn’t focus on the presidential election. The 2016 election demonstrated further difficulties with independent campaigns. Trump showed that it’s easier to win a major party nomination, and that in a situation in which the major party nominees are unpopular, voters are more compelled to vote for the lesser of two evils. Political institutions will have similar limits, backing the chosen candidate of their party.