You can't blame Chris Christie for not running. Monied Republicans had been urging the popular New Jersey governor to seek their party's nomination for president. But by deciding against it, Christie spared himself the ordeal through which all Republican moderates must go: the Night on Bald Mountain.
You remember the last segment in Walt Disney's "Fantasia." Angry spirits fly up the jagged peaks and spend the restless night carrying on. They torment their foes, throwing them into the fire pits.
The Republican primary contest is kind of like that. Before conventional candidates can run a broad-based campaign, they have to endure months of frenzied scrutiny by agitated members of the Republican base. If they have ever done something open-minded or worked well with Democrats, the activists will demand groveling apologies. To prove themselves worthy, the candidates have to do distasteful things, like question accepted theories in science and refuse to back any budget compromise, thus rendering themselves unintelligible on the deficit problem.
It's been a very long night for Mitt Romney. As Massachusetts governor, Romney raised revenues by closing tax loopholes. For example, he stopped letting Massachusetts banks transfer assets into real estate investment trusts that paid almost no taxes. Banks are not real estate companies, and so this was something of an obvious scam. But to the tax-a-phobes, ending an abusive loophole was a cave-in.
As he contemplated the 2008 race, Romney renounced his previously sensible stance on taxes and signed Grover Norquist's ludicrous no-new-no-taxes pledge. Next thing you know, he is joining other GOP candidates in saying he'd oppose a deal that cuts spending by $10 for every $1 of new taxes.
And he's still not getting love on Bald Mountain, where Rick Perry remains a favorite (though the Texas governor was pelted after he supported letting illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition at public universities). Businessman Herman Cain, meanwhile, has shown himself an able climber.
Christie would have posed serious competition for Romney among traditional Republicans. But would he have gotten through the night?
Would the base have forgiven him for naming as superior court judge a Muslim lawyer who defended Muslims held after the Sept. 11 attacks? Or for his response to complaints after the appointment? "I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."
Christie is an environmentalist. He pushed a law to promote offshore wind energy, even though a study said it would raise electricity costs 2 percent. He opposed oil drilling off the New Jersey coast and put a one-year ban on "fracking" for natural gas. He wants to phase out coal-fired power plants in the Garden State. Oh, yes, he's for gun control, particularly a ban on assault weapons. Another interesting GOP candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, has run afoul of the hyper-partisans for having served as President Obama's ambassador to China. Imagine that, working with a Democrat. What country does he think he's living in? Huntsman has been getting very little traction on Bald Mountain.
Any moderate Republican who can squeeze through the canyons of unyielding ideology and reach the first light of dawn would be a formidable match against Obama. But before the church bell rings and the angels sing "Ave Maria," he has to survive the night -- preferably with some dignity intact. The Night on Bald Mountain is something that Christie, understandably, has decided to skip.