Is Chris Christie Really Finished?

1 Comment | Category: General

Join me for a ride in the Wayback Machine as we return to the days following the 2012 election when New Jersey’s Chris Christie was almost immediately anointed by the press and punditry as the savior of the Grand Old Party following Mitt Romney’s presidential election defeat.

The bulk of the stories written about the governor and his administration at that time focused on how this tough-talking, yet straightforward former federal prosecutor carried a deep blue state as a Republican candidate. We frequently heard about his valiant efforts to partner with President Obama to rebound from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and were treated to stories of his more moderate approach to governing that rejected the rigid Tea Party approach.

The Christie 2016 hype intensified as it became clear that his reelection machine successfully cobbled together a coalition that consisted of conservative and moderate Republicans as well as an unexpectedly large number of Democratic officeholders and party officials. Some, of course, were backing him because they felt that he helped deliver the goods for their Democratic constituencies despite their partisan differences. Others were likely reluctant members of the Christie coalition because they feared the prospects of crossing the boss man. Remember, we are talking about Jersey politics here.

Returning to the present, we find that the flood of news coming from the Garden State has shifted from touting Christie as the Republican Party’s fair-hair boy with a knack for accumulating bipartisan victories to instead comparing his political future to a sun and saltwater damaged plank on the Ocean City Boardwalk.

Much to the governor’s chagrin, just about all coverage of Christie and his administration now focuses on whether he had a hand in ordering his underlings to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge from New York to Fort Lee, NJ for the purpose of extracting political revenge on the mayor of that town who declined to endorse Christie’s reelection bid last year. Remember, we are talking about Jersey politics here.

The result of all this, if you believe the news coverage, is that the Christie Brand is now as tainted as West Virginia’s drinking water. The television talking heads, who seem to grow more presumptuous and less informative by the day, say that Christie’s presidential prospects are in freefall despite lacking evidence that the governor was the cause of the mess on the George Washington Bridge. The popular media narrative includes some or all of these options:

1) Christie may have known something about the lane closures in advance, therefore he is personally responsible and his presidential prospects are kaput.

2) Christie may have personally ordered the lane closures, therefore he is personally responsible and his presidential prospects are kaput.

3) Christie’s staff acted independently of the governor, but they learned this sort of vindictive behavior from their boss. Therefore, Christie is personally responsible and his presidential prospects are kaput.

4) Regardless of which option—if any—turns out to be accurate, Christie’s presidential prospects are kaput.

Here comes the fun part for those of us who love the inside political game. There are numerous beneficiaries to Christie’s potential implosion. Democrats are obviously thrilled with the idea of seeing the Republican most capable of playing hardball against their nominee in blue states falter before the 2016 race formally begins. Additionally, Republicans with names like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Paul Ryan, $arah Palin, and Ted Cruz are also rooting for a Christie collapse as they begin to seriously evaluate their own positions in the GOP field.

A McClatchy-Marist poll released on Feb. 12 shows both good and bad news for Christie. First, the bad news. A growing number of voters nationally have developed an unfavorable view of Christie since the bridge affair became public. As of this time, only 33% have a favorable view of the governor while 46% have an unfavorable view. Americans are also split on whether they believe Christie is telling the truth about the bridge affair. 45% believe he is “mostly telling the truth” while 47% believe that he is “mostly not telling the truth.”

Additionally, in a hypothetical matchup, Christie (along with Marco Rubio) trails Hillary Clinton by 21 points. Among the nine names tested, only the embarrassing ex-Alaska governor trails Clinton by a wider margin at 27 points. Performing the best against Ms. Clinton are Paul Ryan at minus eight, Mitt Romney at minus nine, and Mike Huckabee at minus 14.

Now for the good news for Christie. Among the 12 potential GOP candidates mentioned in the poll, Christie remains tied with Mike Huckabee as the preferred candidate among Republicans polled. He is also tied with second place among Tea Party supporters, is in first place among Republicans making less than $50,000, and is tied for first with those making more than that amount. Bridge scandal or no bridge scandal, Christie remains the top pick among Republicans over 45 years or older and is in second place among college graduates. He still ranks first among Republican men, is second among GOP women, and holds a slight edge among both married and unmarried Republican voters.

A deeper dive into the numbers shows that a whopping 63% of Republicans believe that Christie is “mostly telling the truth” when it comes to the bridge mess, with his strongest numbers coming from those who identify themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative.” Likewise, although his overall unfavorable ratings are high, Republicans rate him favorably 50% to 39%. This is important because job number one for any candidate is to actually be able to win among their own primary election constituency.

The point of all this is to say that the press ought to carefully reconsider writing the governor’s political obituary. To quote the great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” We know from watching Christie both as a candidate and a governor that he is one tough customer. It is probably premature to count him out this early.

It is also very possible that Christie weathers this storm and that “Bridgegate” turns out to be much ado about nothing. After all, we are talking about Jersey politics here.

Category: General

    1 Comment so far

  1. Tony West says:

    On the national scene, Christie is hist’ry. He no longer exists. He is a ghost wandering the TV screens of America for a brief while, then he will fade from memory.

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