Chris Christie Still Seems To Think He Can Run For President
His poll numbers are down, the GOP base is not hospitable, but Chris Christie still seems to be thinking about running for President.
While the Presidential race is off to a start with the entry of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton and, as of tomorrow, Marco Rubio, there’s one name that was near the top of many people’s lists that seems to have faded away, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. For a long time, of course, Christie was the candidate that everyone was talking about. Thanks to a style that was unlike any other politician on the national stage, and his willingness to criticize people in his own party, Christie was the focus of media attention virtually from the time that he took office in January 2010. As his political star rose during that early period, there was the inevitable speculation about Christie as a Presidential candidate in 2012, but the Governor demurred on that idea and took no real steps to put together a 2012 campaign. When Mitt Romney seemed to falter in the fall of 2011, though, Christie once again came into focus as a potential candidate, with many reports indicating that some top-level GOP donors who were nervous about Romney’s apparent collapse were turning to him as a candidate. In the end, Christie passed on that opportunity and ended up being one of the first elected Republican officials to endorse Romney in the primary.
Christie’s star rose even further in 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which hit New Jersey just about a week before the General Election. Even though he endured criticism from the right for giving President Obama a stage in the wake of the disaster, and for later criticizing Republicans on Capitol Hill who held a bill to provide the Garden State with supplemental disaster relief hostage over a budget dispute. Christie also faced criticism from the right over the scheduling of the special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by the death of Frank Lautenberg in 2013. Despite those criticisms, though, Christie’s personal popularity soared even higher in the wake of Sandy and he was re-elected in November 2013 in an historic landslide.
After that, though, the bottom started falling out. Just days after Christie’s second term began, a local newspaper broke a story regarding lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that had caused traffic havoc over several days the previous September. Allegations were that people close to Christie’s campaigned and used contacts in the Port Authority to close the lanes as part of some plot to exact revenge against the Mayor of Fort Lee for declining to endorse Christie for re-election. Christie addressed the breaking story in a marathon press conference in which he stated that he had no idea what was going on with the bridge until the story broke, and that two of his closest aides had resigned due to their role in the closure. While subsequent investigations have not revealed any evidence that Christie was aware of the closures until after the fact, the damage was done. Inside New Jersey, his sky high approval numbers dropped like a rock, and his standing among potential 2016 candidates fell as well.
Now, with the Republican field already starting to take shape and Christie not taking any overt steps toward running for office, many observers are wondering if he’s still even considering the possibility:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has seen his presidential stock fall to the point where questions are being raised on whether he’ll really enter the race.
It’s a stunning turnaround for the governor, who not that long ago was seen as the Republican to beat.
Other candidates have since stolen his thunder, and it’s increasingly appearing he might have missed his best shot at the White House in 2012.
A Monmouth University poll released earlier this week showed Christie in a three-way tie for eighth place among GOP candidates. He trailed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by 26 points and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by 32 points.
“You see the polls, they don’t give him a lot of encouragement,” said one Republican donor said. “That’s discouraging as heck.
Those figures, coupled with lingering doubts on the right that Christie is conservative enough to be the GOP nominee suggest it’s at least possible the New Jersey governor could decide to avoid a primary defeat where he might suffer a humiliating defeat.
“If you asked me two weeks ago, I’d say, ‘No question — he’s running,’ ” said Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth’s Polling Institute. “Now I think there’s a bit of a question, and it’s mainly because of the potential for him to be totally embarrassed in those early contests.”
In a recent interview in NJTV’s “Pasta and Politics,” a New Jersey host spooned pasta on to Christie’s plate and asked him what his biggest regret was. Without naming the Bridgegate scandal, Christie said he wished he would not have trusted certain people, saying it had hurt him personally and professionally.
Christie is still gearing up to launch a campaign later this summer, and will visit New Hampshire next week for his “Tell it like it is” tour.
GOP strategists say it will be a critical few days for him.
“He’s got to stop the bloodletting in the polls,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “He’s not dead in the water, but he’s certainly on life support and his condition is getting worse by the day.”
Past GOP candidates have stumbled and come back.
Christie allies point to the 2008 cycle and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as a recent example. McCain was left for dead in 2007 only to make a stunning comeback and win the GOP nomination a year later.
Privately, Christie is calling donors and asking them not to count him out, according to sources familiar with the calls.
“He is being very clear to people that he is still a serious contender,” said one Republican donor.
Christie will have to compete with Bush, Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), among others, for the mantle of the GOP establishment.
When Bush entered the race, it was seen as a blow to Christie, and Rubio’s stock is also on the rise. He will formally enter the race on Monday.
Further to the right, Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) have entered the race to fanfare, and Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are among those expected to follow them into the race.
Bush’s entrance has hurt Christie, who is competing with the Bush family for big-money donors.
But the GOP donor said it hasn’t closed the door on Christie.
“I’m friends with Jeb. I like Jeb a lot — but the difference is passion and energy and an ability to appeal across the spectrum to all voters. Chris has that,” the donor said.
Christie’s supporters are adamant that he can make a comeback.
“Chris Christie still has a chance,” said supporter Bobbie Kilberg, the head of the Northern Virginia Technology Council. She’s hosting a fundraiser at her home in May for Christie.
Christie’s chances have always been questionable, of course. Even when he was at the height of his popularity, his positions on a whole host of issues put him at odds with the base of the Republican Party to such an extent that one wondered just how well he would actually do once the voters started heading to the polls. That problem has become more apparent as it has become more obvious that the 2016 race inside the Republican Party is going to have a far greater rightward tilt than any one in recent memory. While Christie has noticeably changed his rhetoric in recent months in ways that seem clearly intended to placate the concerns of conservatives, it seems unlikely that voters are going to forget the fact that he’s the same Chris Christie who was openly disassociating himself from much of the rhetoric on the right for the past five years. Combined with that, of course, there is the fallout from the so-called Bridgegate scandal, which some reports indicate could result in indictments against people close to Christie as early as this week. While it doesn’t appear that he can be implicated in any wrongdoing, the fact that the entire scandal was orchestrated by some of his closest aides apparently without his knowledge tends to undercut the image of managerial competence that had been his hallmark from the beginning. Without that, it’s hard to see what Christie has going for him as a candidate.
Looking at the numbers, Christie clearly has an uphill battle ahead of him if he gets into the race. In the national polls, where he used to be at or near the top of the heap, the New Jersey Governor now stands with a 5.5% RealClearPolitics average, behind most of the rest of the GOP field and just ahead of candidates like Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal. Christie is doing slightly better in Iowa polling than he is nationally, with a 7.0% polling average that puts him near the middle of the pack, but it’s worth noting that this number does not reflect any polling over the past six weeks. New Hampshire is friendlier territory for Christie given that he has a 9.8% average in the Granite State, but that’s well below where he was a year ago when he was near the top of the field. In South Carolina, Christie comes in with a 6.7% polling average, which is actually quite surprising given how conservative South Carolina Republicans tend to be. Rounding out the early set of primaries is Florida, where Christie falls near the bottom of the pack with a 3.7% average in the polls. To some degree, these aren’t particularly bad numbers but they aren’t very good either and, more importantly, they are all down from where the Governor was in the past and they are particularly significant given the uphill battle that Christie has always had in the GOP primaries. If the does enter the race, he’s going to have to find a way to make up much of that lost ground, and that’s not going to be easy.
In April of last year, when “Bridgegate” was just three months old, I argued that Christie was still a viable candidate for President. At the time, that seemed like a logical conclusion given the fact that there was little evidence that Christie would be personally implicated in the scandal and the fact that there was plenty of time for his poll numbers to bounce back. Now, it seems pretty clear that Christie would like to throw his hat in the ring, if only to get the whole “running for President” crossed off the bucket list. At the same time, though, it’s fairly obvious that his star has dimmed significantly and that what was already an uphill battle to begin with will now be far more difficult.