For the few Republicans in Hollywood, Chris Christie, the rotund but plucky governor in New Jersey may hold the key to presidential elections.
I'm not the only stealth Republican around these days
Last night, at a dinner with a well-known Republican pollster, I got the bad news. Well, it was bad news for me, and for the other Republicans at the table.
There aren't many Republicans in Hollywood - I think there are more practising druids, actually - but every now and then the few of us who are out of the closet get together to hash over the political scene.
It's hard to do this in our day-to-day lives. In the entertainment business, it's just assumed that everyone you encounter is a Democrat. I remember a few years ago, during the last presidential election I was asked at a dinner party: "So, are you for Hillary or Obama?" It never occurred to my dinner companion that there was another, less popular, choice. "Neither," I said. "I'm a Republican. I'm voting for John McCain." There was a pause. A stricken look. "Oh my God." A sharp intake of breath. "Are you serious?"
If you've ever told someone sitting next to you that you have a particularly deadly and contagious form of cholera, I imagine you got the same look.
But back to the bad news. The well-known pollster told the assembled group of hopeful Republicans that it is a near-certainty that Barack Obama will be re-elected in 2012, despite his horrendous poll numbers, despite his floundering foreign policy, and despite what's projected to be an unacceptably high unemployment figure.
Our dinner guest showed us some disappointing focus-group results. People are unhappy, in general, with the direction of the country, but they're inclined to stick with the current president. "There's no one running against him," he told us, "who has any real star power."
And that's true, unfortunately. It's easy, I suppose, for Republicans in other parts of the country to spin optimistic fantasies about this candidate or that, but here in Hollywood we know a thing or two about stardom, about the magic glow that certain people - Tom Hanks, Bill Clinton - have, and that certain people - your high school drama teacher, Mitt Romney - don't.
It's awfully hard to dislodge a sitting president. The last two successful attempts were helmed by charismatic and dazzlingly brilliant campaigners, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Mostly, though, the political boneyard is filled with lame second-raters - John Kerry, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale - who simply didn't have the spark or the charm to get the job done.
Our pollster friend did, though, offer a tiny ray of hope. The New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the rotund, tough-talking, pugilistic leader of the Garden State, is the one Republican with the kind of electric firepower it will take to unseat Barack Obama. He's a plain-talking budget hawk, and he hits all of the important buttons for the nationwide Republican party.
Snag: he isn't running. He's made that very clear. When asked, he's claimed to be uninterested in the job of president, consumed with his duties as New Jersey governor.
But what's he supposed to say? The moment a sitting governor of any state declares his candidacy for president, his statewide popularity plummets. His local clout evaporates, his ability to ram legislation through a recalcitrant legislative branch weakens, and the very thing that gives his candidacy its mojo - that he's a powerful, effective, dynamic governor - starts to fade.
The canny move is to wait until the very last minute to declare. Save up all of that political power as long as possible. Keep them guessing.
But aside from assessing star power, the only other thing that Hollywood Republicans really understand is money. Perhaps it's our experience toiling in Hollywood, a town that somehow manages to be more craven, double-dealing, and amoral than Washington, but we know that money always tells the true story. So we put the question to our insider friend: is Chris Christie quietly, discreetly raising money for a presidential run? Our dinner guest just smiled an infuriatingly vague smile.
"I'm not at liberty to say," he said, which translated from Washington-speak either means: "I know, but I'm not supposed to say," or, more likely, "I have no idea, but I'd like you to think that I do."
So the gathering of Hollywood Republicans chose to believe that Chris Christie is in fact lining up campaign donors way, way under the radar. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we elected to think that he is running a brilliant stealth campaign for president of the United States.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood