New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won re-election in a landslide on Tuesday, beating his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, by 21 points.
Christie was already a much talked-about prospect for the GOP presidential nomination. Now, with a resounding victory in a solidly Democratic state, speculation over 2016 has hit a fever pitch.
Of course, Christie won't be the only Republican vying for the 2016 nomination. Yesterday, those potential candidates found themselves caught between praising their future rival and trashing the hottest member of their own party, which led some of them to a third option: Catty, backhanded compliments.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
While Christie has been basking in positive media attention, Paul has been mired in a plagiarism scandal, which is probably not the contrast he wanted to draw when sitting down with media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Fox News chief Roger Ailes to reportedly discuss a 2016 presidential run.
A little envy might explain his latest patronizing comment about the New Jersey governor, shared with CNN's Wolf Blitzer as the election results came in:
I think the Republican Party is a big party, and we need moderates like Chris Christie who can win in New Jersey. What that means about the national party, I'm not sure there's an answer. But we do need moderates like Chris Christie in the party.
I think  will be more difficult — states like Iowa are very conservative. South Carolina is very conservative. [CNN]
Translation: Christie is fine for Jersey, but not for real conservative states. And guess who happened to lead an early poll of potential GOP candidates in Iowa? Yep: Rand Paul.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
The Texas senator is pretty much everything Christie isn't: A polarizing figure reviled by Democrats and establishment Republicans, and beloved by members of the Tea Party. If Christie is the future of the GOP, then Cruz is the guy who gets left out.
Which is probably why Cruz felt the need to take Christie down a peg in comments to ABC News:
I think it is terrific that he is brash, that he is outspoken, and that he won his race. But I think we need more leaders in Washington with the courage to stand for principle. [ABC News]
Ah, the old standing-on-principle qualification, which some people — like Chris Christie, perhaps? — unfortunately lack. The message is clear: Cruz is the Tea Party purist, while Christie is the guy who let his state legalize gay marriage and got a congratulatory phone call from the White House.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Did you know that New Jersey is a blue state, full of Democrats who voted for President Obama? Rubio certainly does.
I think we need to understand that some of these races don't apply to future races. Every race is different — it has a different set of factors — but I congratulate [Christie] on his win.
Clearly [Christie] was able to speak to the hopes and aspirations of people within New Jersey. That's important. We want to win everywhere and Gov. Christie has certainly shown he has a way of winning in New Jersey, in states like New Jersey...so I congratulate him on that. [Huffington Post]
Yes, states like New Jersey, states that could very well go to a generic Democrat should Christie get in the 2016 race. Rubio has one big advantage heading into 2016 — he represents a giant swing state that could determine the fate of the election. Don't expect Rubio to let voters forget that.