Following New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s controversial remarks in England about vaccinations, which set off a firestorm here in the U.S., the potential 2016 presidential candidate probably thought this week couldn’t get any worse. And then it did.
There was a New York Times report detailing the governor’s questionable luxury trips, hurting his everyman image. And then came news that federal investigators reportedly questioned a former assistant prosecutor who had previously brought a whistleblower lawsuit against Gov. Christie’s administration – sending a chilling reminder that authorities are looking into possible misdeeds and that indictments could be on the way.
The trifecta of problems have some convinced that Christie has shot himself in the foot even before officially making his 2016 plans known. The big question now is if the governor can reassert himself as a serious contender.
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Inadvertently or not, Christie – who would surely run as a moderate, establishment candidate,– came across as a member of the far right fringe when he said parents should have a choice when it comes to getting their children vaccinated, even as public officials work to contain an outbreak of measles in 14 states. Presumed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton said it was a matter of science and that vaccines work. Christie’s potential GOP presidential competitors, save for for Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, also came down on the side of vaccines. And Paul later walked back his remarks.
Conservative columnist John Podhoretz tweeted, “So Chris Christie is going to run as the sensible establishment candidate – but pander on vaccines?” And Republican GOP strategist Rick Wilson wrote, “no, seriously. Being ‘a little bit of antivaxer’ is like being ‘a little bit of a 9/11 truther.’”
Things get even more bizarre when you compare Christie’s vaccinations remarks with his reaction to the Ebola crisis – which involved a controversial, government-mandated, 21-day quarantine on health care workers returning from West Africa who had contact with Ebola patients. “There’s an inconsistency in his ideology,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. “As a Republican primary voter trying to make a decision, there’s no clear pattern with Gov. Christie and what he’d do in the next public health crisis.”
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said the vaccination remarks and even the luxury trips would not necessarily be a long term problem. What is, he said, is the existing undercurrent that possibly “more will drip out” from ongoing federal investigations over Bridgegate.
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“If the Republican establishment is looking for a safer candidate, they certainly have it with Jeb Bush or a Scott Walker … This week’s news may be the final straw for some people already doubting he was a risky candidate,” said Murray.
Gov. Christie’s administration did not respond to requests for comment. The governor is forging ahead with trips to the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire scheduled for this month.
The visit to the Hawkeye State is just around the corner, on Monday. Christie is scheduled to deliver remarks as part of a speaking series being put on by the Dallas County Republican Party.
Potential candidates are also scheduled to speak for the series between now and May, including retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Hewlitt-Packard CEO and 2010 Senate candidate CEO Carly Fiorina, said Tyler De Haan, chairman of the Dallas Country Republicans.
De Haan brushed off Christie’s rough week and said the governor could “absolutely” play well in the state. “It’s still really early in the process. Every candidate who decides to throw their hat in the ring is going to have a bad week,” he said.
Approximately 65 people have RSVPed for the event, which will be held in West Des Moines. Christie is expected to speak for about 30 minutes and then do a meet and greet with caucus goers for another 30 minutes, said De Haan.
Those types of forums could be the answer to Christie reasserting himself, said Murray.
“He needs to get back on the trail, get back into those forums where he ignites an audience,” he said, adding the “bigger damage is the fact that Christie was overseas the day after Mitt Romney announced he was not running, when Jeb Bush was in the country to start rounding up that support.”
Harrison said Christie should refrain from delivering off-the-cuff policy announcements as he did in England. “He needs more structure, more research. While he needs to gauge opinion where constituents are but ones that won’t kill you in the mainstream.”