To truly understand the seismic impact of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) fall from grace, look no further than Mitt Romney.
The twice-failed presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor is back on the public stage to promote a new film — one that offers a humanizing portrait of a politician best remembered for being robotic and out of touch — prompting chatter about another White House bid. Further fueling the "Romney 2016" buzz, a Purple Strategies poll released last week found Romney leading a pack of potential GOP contenders in a hypothetical New Hampshire primary.
Does any of this mean Romney is seriously considering running in 2016?
"Oh, no, no, no," he told The New York Times' Ashley Parker.
"No, no, no, no, no," he added. "No, no, no."
It's important to remember how Romney won the 2012 nomination in the first place: By being the only sane choice among a buffet of ridiculous candidates like Herman Cain. Base voters never really liked or trusted him — remember all the flip-flopping accusations and the RomneyCare bashing? — but settled on him because they really had no better option. None of that has changed.
Come 2016, there are a number of never-rans with more robust conservative cred who could steal the base's heart, while also boasting a plausible resume, such as Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas). Which is to say, Romney will be an afterthought by then.
"We get swept up in these moments," said former Obama adviser David Plouffe in a segment for Bloomberg. "Two months from now, I don't think anyone will be talking about Mitt Romney."
So why all the Romney hype? For that, you can blame Christie.
Though it's way too soon to crown a legitimate front-runner, the Republican nominating contest typically does have an early favorite, someone seen as being the "next in line." Though there were — and still are — genuine questions about whether Christie could play well outside the Northeast and win over a conservative primary electorate, he was nonetheless considered the early establishment favorite due to his resounding re-election in a deep blue state.
Then Bridgegate broke. Then state investigators began probing the scandal. Then Christie botched his damage control. As a result, Christie's once-enviable popularity has taken a hit. One month ago, he edged past Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical 2016 matchup, 48 percent to 46 percent; he now trails the former secretary of state by a yawning 16-point margin, according to a new CNN poll.
With Christie's political career on life support, the party is again casting about for a savior. And they aren't coming up with much.
"You know what a lot of them say to me?" one GOP operative told BuzzFeed of his talks with party donors. "'I think we need Mitt back.'"
That's not a good sign for the party. The vacuum Christie has created has caused such turmoil that virtually any Republican with a pulse is now in the mix to replace him — even one who lost to President Obama despite an ailing economy and an unpopular health-care law.
Even Romney thinks it's someone else's chance to represent the party, telling the Times that he wants "to make sure that we take the country in a different direction" and that a host of other GOPers "have a much better chance of doing that."
He's right. To move forward, the GOP would be crazy to look back.