Seriously, we gotta ask. Is there any room left in the overcrowded clown car for Chris Christie?
The problem, at this point, is that asking Republican voters to buy into his brand is like asking Wall Street to buy stock in Napster. The online music service went bankrupt years ago. Christie has been a bear market ever since his vindictive senior aides used school kids as political pawns in the vicinity of the George Washington Bridge.
If you aggregate all the polls, you’ll discover that Christie ranks ninth in the Republican field – trailing the number eight guy, Donald Trump. Some of Christie’s top aides have fled to other candidates. He’ll be lucky this year to raise a fraction of the money that’s been pledged to the first-tier rivals. His New Jersey approval rating has sunk to 30 percent, which is roughly what Richard Nixon polled nationally during Watergate. And during Christie’s tenure, the New Jersey economy has been one of the worst in America.
But hey, as Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Which is why Christie is announcing his candidacy on this very day, seeking to sell himself as the Howard Cosell of the GOP, the guy who “tells it like it is.”
Heck, why not. He figures that his lowly status can’t get any worse. (Actually, if the indicted Bridgegate aides start to sing, his status most certainly can get worse.) He figures that if he can score a few hot soundbites in the Aug. 6 Republican debate, he can catch a wave, garner media buzz as the Comeback Kid, and ride it all the way to the New Hampshire open primary – where, supposedly, independents and crossover Democrats will ignite his candidacy for the nomination stretch run.
This seems borderline delusional, for all kinds of reasons: (1) the conservatives who will dominate the early contests in Iowa and South Carolina decided long ago that Christie is too moderate, (2) the Bridgegate scandal is still out there; the U.S. attorney has said, “It’s like the end of Downton Abbey, you’ve got to wait for the next season,” (3) Christie’s creds as a foe of public unions have been trumped by Scott Walker’s stripping of union bargaining rights, (4) Christie’s creds as a center-right governor have been trumped by Jeb Bush’s establishment connections and Florida track record, (5) Christie doesn’t have a track record of his own to brag about.
He can’t tout Jersey’s economic growth stats, because last year they ranked 46th in the nation. He can’t tout the state’s job-creation stats, because for much of his tenure they’ve been among the worst in the nation, roughly on a par with Missississippi. And he certainly doesn’t want to mention that, on his watch, Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times – an all-time record for a Jersey governor. (He won’t mention this, but in the unlikely event that his candidacy catches a wave, rest assured that his opponents will.)
So instead he’ll try to tout his sit-down-and-shut-up persona.
Watch the YouTube video that he posted yesterday. It’s all about spinning his bluster as an asset. He says, “I get accused a lot of times of being too blunt and too direct and saying what’s on my mind just a little too loudly. I had an Irish father and I had a Sicilian mother. My mom set the rules and set the tone. No suffering in silence….In 2004, my mom got diagnosed with cancer….She grabbed my hand and said, ‘Christopher, there’s nothing more unsaid between us.’….When people wonder why I do the things I do, that affirmed for me forever that I am going to be this way,” so you need to tell the voters “exactly what you’re thinking and exactly what you’re feeling.”
(By the way, Christie doesn’t always “tell it like it is.” He slings bull just like any other pol. When he first ran for office, he told public workers that their benefts were “sacred.” He said, “The notion that I would eliminate, change, or alter your pension is not only a lie, but cannot be further from the truth.” Then, once in office, he cut them. He signed a law that required him to make steady payments into the pension system. Then he reneged. Last year, he cut $2.4 billion in promised contributions.)
Anyway. Can he really build Christiementum by selling Character? The problem is, rank and file Republicans are already well acquainted with his shtick, and they seem very underwhelmed. According to the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, 55 percent of Republican primary voters can’t envision supporting him. The only candidate who scored worse was Trump. Republicans are always looking for the next Ronald Reagan, but Christie’s personality is the antithesis of the Gipper’s.
And check out these stats: On YouTube, at this writing, 138 people have watched Christie’s video and clicked Thumbs Up – but 121 have watched it and clicked Thumbs Down. Those stats are unscientific, but they tell it like it is. In presidential politics, a polarizer is a very tough sell.