It’s too late to say it with any meaningful conviction now, but Chris Christie should have run for president when the Republican Party and Nancy Reagan were imploring him to do so in the late fall of 2011. He was the guy, the shining star, six months removed from pounding out a public worker pension and benefits bill that would be his most lasting achievement. The stars were aligned, and let’s face it; that doesn’t happen twice.
Then came his insatiable desire to win the biggest landslide in New Jersey history which led to the George Washington Bridge scandal which occurred at the same time that New Jersey’s economy was doing bupkis and the governor was actively running away from his signature accomplishment. When asked the NJ Supreme Court to rule his pension and benefits bill unconstitutional so he wouldn’t have to make a full pension payment. This is not at all presidential and, to their credit, most of the national Republican electorate has rejected Christie’s message, such as it is, his bluster, and his insufferable swaying back and forth on the issues. Of course, that same Republican electorate seems to have fallen for the political alchemy that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are pandering would suggest that the voters are batting .500.
Last night’s debate was really and truly Chris Christie’s final chance to turn an aggregate 5% polling average into a stunning political comeback. He yelled mightily at Marco Rubio and continued to tout his aggressive style of governance, which is exactly what the country doesn’t need. He was angry at the weather when it forced him to leave the campaign trail in January and understands that he needs to finish way ahead of Jeb Bush and John Kasich in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
I don’t see it happening.
Christie should blame Trump for most of the damage done to his campaign. Christie was all set to be the loudmouth truth-teller, but even he couldn’t have foreseen Trump’s supreme ability to say whatever was on his mind and watch his poll numbers rise. When terrorism reared its ugly head in November, Christie’s numbers rose too, but ultimately there were just too many other candidates for him to leapfrog in the standings. If Christie can somehow finish in the top three or four with double-digit number next to his name, then maybe he can move on to South Carolina and Nevada and get squashed there.
But then what? Christie says that he’s going to come back to New Jersey to finish out his term, but he will return to a very different political landscape. He won’t be able to be the dominant force in Trenton that he would like, and will find that many GOP legislators will defy him if it’s in their political interests. And it will be. The Democrats can smell a victory in 2017 and will do all they can to get a supermajority in both the Assembly and the Senate. Further, those Republicans who voted against Christie when bills would come up for votes but then vote to uphold Christie’s vetoes, will not always do so in the future.
On the flip side, Christie will not need to be so conservative if he returns, so maybe we can get some common sense laws on firearms, school financing, health care and transportation. In the end, it will be up to the Governor and what he wants to see as his legacy.