Christie’s quest looks like a forlorn one.By John Cassidy The New Yorker (7/1/15)
Chris Christie can yak; we all know that. At one point during the Bridgegate scandal, which derailed his Presidential hopes, he stood at the podium for what seemed like an entire morning answering questions, until, finally, the Trenton press corps ran out of things to ask. He didn’t say much, of course, except to repeat his denial that he knew anything about the Nixonian shenanigans his chief of staff and top political adviser had apparently been up to in Fort Lee, where his administration stood accused of reducing the number of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the town’s mayor for opposing the governor’s reëlection. But at a moment when many politicians would have stayed out of view, Christie stood there and talked, and talked, and talked, his very presence indicating that, however bad things got, he intended to tough it out.
It was a bit like that on Tuesday. Christie returned to the gymnasium of the high school he’d attended, in Livingston, New Jersey, and announced that despite everything—criminal charges in the Bridgegate scandal, a record low approval rating in his own state, and a near-universal consensus among pundits that he’s finished as a national figure—he is, indeed, running for President in 2016. Without a teleprompter or any notes, he spoke for about half an hour, casting himself as a working-class hero, a pragmatic problem solver, and, above all else, a teller of truths.
“I am not running for President of the United States as a surrogate for being prom king of America,” Christie said. “I am not looking to be the most popular guy who looks in your eyes every day and tries to figure out what you want to hear. . . . When I stand up on a stage like this in front of all of you, there is one thing you will know for sure: I mean what I say and I say what I mean. And that’s what America needs right now.” Just in case anyone hadn’t received the message, his campaign had printed up blue placards bearing the legend “Christie. Telling it like it is.”
To be fair to the two-term governor, he had some good lines. (He often does.) Rather than simply criticizing President Obama and the Democrats, he said that both parties had failed the country by turning compromise into a dirty word. “If Washington and Adams and Jefferson believed compromise was a dirty word, we’d still be under the crown of England,” he said. When he did get around to attacking the current Commander-in-Chief, he accused him of running a “weak and feckless” foreign policy, adding, “President Obama lives in his own world, not in our world.”
Of course, the same thing could be said of Christie; indeed, his otherworldliness might be his greatest strength. Confronted with the realities of his situation, most earthbound politicians would be looking for a comfortable couch in a quiet room and adopting the fetal position. Christie is heading for New Hampshire, his head held high, his tongue blazing.
When he gets there, he will find that his poll numbers are somewhere between bad and disastrous. A year ago, opinion surveys indicated that he was leading the G.O.P. pack in the Granite State. Last week, in a poll carried out for CNN and WMUR, a New Hampshire television station, Christie ranked seventh, with just five per cent of likely G.O.P. voters selecting him. Ahead of him were Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump.
And that’s the good news for Christie. On the national level, his position is even more fraught. It’s not just the fact that he’s running ninth in the G.O.P. field, or that fifty-five per cent of likely Republican voters questioned by pollsters for an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey said that they couldn’t even imagine voting for him, or that many of the wealthy Republicans who supported him in 2012 have moved on to other candidates. It’s the fact that his own state of New Jersey has turned against him.
New Jersey can’t stand him
When a governor runs for President, a strong local base is a must. But in a poll released last week by Fairleigh Dickinson University, Christie’s approval rating was just thirty per cent, roughly half what it was two years ago. Forty per cent of respondents said that they “dislike everything” about him. Another twenty-three per cent said that they like him but dislike his policies.
Obviously, the Bridgegate scandal played a big part in undermining Christie’s popularity. But he has also been plagued by economic problems, particularly in Atlantic City; questions about the use of Hurricane Sandy relief funds; and renewed problems with the state’s public-employee pension system, which he claimed to have fixed. “The bad news is that he is the governor in a state where a sizable majority give a thumbs down to his leadership,” Krista Jenkins, the Fairleigh Dickinson professor who directed the poll, said.
Even some of Christie’s admirers have pretty much written him off. “His moment was four years ago, when he was fresh, brash—there was just something about him,” Charles Krauthammer, the conservative commentator, said on Fox News. “He was the candidate everybody wanted, the anti-Mitt Romney. And he decided he wanted to wait, and now the buzz is gone and that excitement is gone. . . . His political space, ideological, it has been taken by Jeb Bush.”
But that won’t stop Christie. History shows that he likes to play the underdog: that’s what he was in 2009, when he became New Jersey’s governor by defeating an incumbent Democrat, Jon Corzine. Ever confident of his own abilities, Christie will be looking for a strong showing in the televised debates, which start in August, and which will showcase his articulacy and his everyman persona. Still, absent a collapse in Bush’s campaign and a mass outbreak of amnesia among G.O.P. voters, Christie’s quest looks like a forlorn one.