Four years ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was pretty well positioned for a presidential campaign. Republican insiders pleaded with him to run; much of the political media made little effort to hide its affection for him; and the Republican governor, still untainted by scandal and failure, remained quite popular in his home state.
Four years later, watching Christie finally launch his White House bid, it was hard not to wonder whether he’s four years too late. MSNBC’s Aliyah Frumin reported on the latest Republican to join the crowded field.
“We need a government in Washington, D.C., that remembers you went there to work for us, not the other way around,” Christie told a crowd of about 700 people at a packed gymnasium at Livingston High School, Christie’s alma mater – where he served as class president and catcher on the baseball team.Employing some of his characteristically colorful language, Christie added, “I am not running for president as a surrogate for being prom king.”
I’m not altogether sure what that means – he used similarly odd rhetoric in his kickoff, including “force the horse” – though the governor nevertheless boasted about his habit of “telling it like it is.” Christie added, “I mean what I say, and I say what I mean.”
And at first blush, that’s not a bad message for a White House hopeful. Christie’s problem, however, is that the bravado isn’t true, and he has nothing else to fall back on.
Just last week, for example, the Daily Beast had a report on Christie, after days of delay, commenting on the controversy surrounding state support for the Confederate battle flag. The Garden State governor waited until all the other Republican candidates had already weighed in, and then finally broke his silence, calling the flag “a divisive symbol of racism.”
The article added, “Christie’s reluctance to speak about the flag was made all the more puzzling by his reputation as a straight-talker.”
And it’s true – the governor likes to talk about his no-nonsense, straight-talking persona. The trouble is, Christie doesn’t back up the reputation with actual substance, instead ducking tough questions that might lead to politically problematic answers.
As for the notion that Christie means what he says, the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran has followed the governor’s every move for 14 years and Moran wrote yesterday that Christie is a habitual liar. “Don’t believe a word the man says,” the journalist wrote. He added, “When Christie picks up the microphone, he speaks so clearly and forcefully that you assume genuine conviction is behind it. Be careful, though. It’s a kind of spell. He is a remarkable talent with a silver tongue. But if you look closely, you can see that it is forked like a serpent’s.”
Complicating matters, of course, is the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal, which we’ve reported on extensively. I won’t rehash the sordid mess here, but in the context of his campaign launch, it’s at least worth mentioning that in Christie’s version of events, some of his top aides conspired to abuse their power in his name, and he had no idea what was going on around him.
Voters should elect Christie president, though, because of his managerial skills.
The list of reasons Christie is likely to struggle just keeps growing. His constituents no longer like nor trust him. His economic policies have failed and he’s responsible for the most debt downgrades of any New Jersey governor in history. He’s convinced bluster is a substitute for a sensible foreign policy. His “big idea” is cutting Social Security – an idea most voters hate. His personality tends to sway between arrogance and self-pity.
These are not minor hurdles for a presidential candidate to overcome.
Christie starts the national race in roughly ninth place, with poll support hovering just above 3%. Anything’s possible, but the road ahead of the New Jersey Republican appears long.