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John Phillips: How Chris Christie will be drafted to run for president (The Secret Plan like one before it)

May 20, 2011 |  5:24 am

New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie 2-16-11

It's now official, the only body with a higher dropout rate than the Los Angeles Unified School District is the 2012 Republican presidential field.

Just this weekend we learned that two first-tier GOP contenders decided to take a pass on making a run at the White House. One of them is a hokey entertainer who hosts a boring television show featuring washed-up celebrities –- and the other is Donald Trump.

Polls consistently showed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and multimillionaire businessman Trump at the top of the GOP heap. Huckabee's support, specifically among Southerners and Evangelical Christians, was real...while any vote for Donald Trump was a vote for 'none of the above' – if 'none of the above' had clownish hair and Tourette's syndrome.

Despite what many political observers may think, the departure of Huck and Trump is a good thing for the Republican Party. It gives the GOP a chance to hit the reset button.

Let's face it, to say the GOP field is 'problematic' is the understatement of the year -– this....

...crowd is carrying more baggage than Ryan Seacrest after a Black Friday shopping spree at Forever 21.

Now is the opportunity for fresh blood to jump in...or be forced in. 

Of all of the potential GOP candidates, the serious Republican money men and women want the girl playing hardest to get: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

The Garden State Guv says no dice, telling reporters, “Short of suicide, I don't really know what I'd have to do to convince you people that I'm not running. I'm not running.”

Until he rolls a seven, I'm not buying it.

CNN recently reported that Christie met with a group of influential Iowa Republican donors who tried to talk him into running.

Bruce Rastetter, an energy company executive told the Cable News Network, “We want to encourage him from an Iowa perspective and a national perspective. We need a candidate like him in the race...I think the other people are good people, good candidates. Chris Christie is someone who is...unique...and direct.” Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley 1986

  If Christie truly has no interest in running, why is he meeting with activists from Iowa instead of watching all of the 'Barefoot Contessa' episodes stored on his TiVO?

It's because Christie wants to be courted.

Think about it, if you want to convince someone to do something they claim they don't want to do, having a never-ending parade of very smart, very wealthy people sweet-talk them into 'saving the country' will do the trick every time. It's the most persuasive route you can take, outside of a rag soaked in chloroform.

If big money donors can eliminate the torturous task of spending 10 hours a day raising money, Christie can spend all of his time on the fun part of campaigning: going on TV, pressing the flesh and eating deep-fat-fried meat products on sticks. As a sweetener, did I mention that he can eat deep-fat-fried meat products on sticks?

California Dreamin'

Political Science is a science of one-time occurrences, so one election is never exactly like another –- but the 2012 presidential election is shaping up as strikingly similar to the 1993 mayoral election in the city of Los Angeles. 

In the 20-years prior to the 1993 election, L.A. was governed by Tom Bradley –- the first black mayor in the history of the City of Angels. Mayor Bradley was good-looking, well-liked, considered smart as a whip, and while he came from the south side of town, his appeal went far beyond the city's urban scene.

Tom Bradley was the Barack Obama, before Barack Obama.

According to Cal State Fullerton political scientist Raphael Sonenshein in his book "Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles," Bradley was able to put together a winning formula by building what was known as “The Bradley Coalition.” 

The Bradley Coalition –- initially consisting of South L.A. blacks and Westside Jews -– expanded to include labor unions, the downtown business establishment and to a lesser extent Asians and Latinos. Eventually, the political conglomeration displayed all of the racial anVanna White who can spelld ethnic diversity of a Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie family Christmas photo.

Practically speaking, in a city as diverse as Los Angeles, this seemed to be a recipe that would keep a Democrat in the mayor's mansion forever.

And it worked like a Rolex....Until it became a Rolecks.

To put it bluntly, life in Los Angeles in the early 1990s went to hell. The end of the Cold War decimated Southern California's aerospace-dominated, middle-class manufacturing base, leading to high unemployment and an economic recession. The Rodney King verdict sparked rioting in the streets, complete with uncomfortable levels of racial tension.  Crime was out of control.

The only thing the city had going for it was that Vanna White was still turning the letters on "Wheel of Fortune."

 Worst of all for Mayor Bradley and the Democrats was that the Bradley Coalition was incapable of dealing with the region's problems....and EVERYONE knew it.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Mayor Bradley, who was named after the terminal at LAX, opted against running for a sixth consecutive term and anointed liberal L.A. City Councilman Michael Woo as the new face of the Bradley Coalition. This was less like the birth of Simba in "The Lion King" and more like the Clippers holding a press conference announcing who the new head coach will be. 
Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich 2006
The city's elites knew they had to pull the plug on the Bradley Coalition AND offer an alternative candidate who could actually pull off a win...and that's exactly what they did.

The Draft

The Bradley Coalition's Grim Reaper turned out to be an ultra-wealthy and highly connected attorney named Bill Wardlaw. 

Kevin Roderick, of LAObserved.com once described Wardlaw as being “the closest we have to a godfather of local politics.”  Wardlaw's Democratic bona fides include working on former California Gov. Jerry Brown's 1976 presidential campaign (he didn't win), serving as campaign manager for Democrat Sen. Alan Cranston's 1980 reelection campaign in California and being a go-to political fundraiser for liberal causes. 

Outside of the poor sap who ended up marrying Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, it's hard to think of an individual who has made more personal sacrifice for the Democratic Party than Wardlaw.

Wardlaw's resume made him an unlikely candidate to convince an old, rich, white, Republican, straight-talking outsider to run for mayor. But that's exactly what he did...and that's how L.A. investment attorney Richard Riordan ended up in the race for mayor.

While Riordan's exorbitant wealth would allow him to finance his candidacy on his own, Wardlaw wanted everyone short of Daddy Warbucks to kick in. He did this by bringing along 'The Committee of 25'  -– a group of elite businessmen and women -- some of whom were former backers of Mayor Bradley -– to provide the financial help, institutional knowledge and the seal of approval that the largely unknown Riordan needed.

Team Riordan contrasted themselves with the Bradley Coalition by branding the Irish Catholic New YorFormer Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, 2003k native as being “tough enough to turn L.A. around.”  Riordan was tough enough on public employee unions to get spending under control....He was tough enough on criminals to bring the crime rate down....And even tough enough on earthquakes to keep the city from falling into the ocean.

OK, I made the last one up. But you get the point. 

Voters in the overwhelmingly Democratic city responded by sweeping Riordan into office with 54% of the vote. 

The Bradley Coalition was defeated....for good.

The Future Draft

Fast forward the tape to 2011. As donors are meeting with Chris Christie, urging him to run, I asked former Mayor Riordan if he sees any of himself in the New Jersey governor. But before I could get the words out of my mouth, Riordan jumped in, “Absolutely! I just wish I had his personality. I like him. He really tells it like it is.”

The Obama coalition looks an awful lot like the old Bradley Coalition. And included Mayor Riordan, who broke ranks with the GOP to support President Obama in 2008. Is Gov. Christie capable of breaking the machine, the same way Riordan did in 1993?

Riordan says consider it broken. “Christie can beat Obama because the people want someone who can manage the country. Obama has totally disappointed me.”

It sounds to me like he's suggesting that Chris Christie is tough enough to turn the country around. 

Can somebody please get Bill Wardlaw on the phone?

Also by John Phillips:

For Republicans in '12, it's Sarah Palin or another big, fat L

Why Hillary Clinton must run in 2012

The lessons of a political visit to Washington

John Phillips at CPAC and other infectious diseases

-- John Phillips

PhillipsJohnStrangely enough, a man named John Phillips hosts “The John Phillips Show” on Talk Radio 790 KABC in Los Angeles, which can be heard weeknights from 6 to 10 p.m. Pacific.  Outside Southern California, his show is available live online at KABC.com  Also follow Phillips on Twitter  @JohnnyDontLike

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Photos: Evan Vucci / Associated Press (Christie); Mario Suriani / Associated Press (Bradley, 1986); King-World (White); Bill Pugliano / Getty Images (Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich, 2006); Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press (Riordan, 2003).

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