As 2014 came to a close, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) had to feel pretty good about his political standing. He was the chair of the Republican Governors Association in a cycle in which GOP gubernatorial candidates did surprisingly well; he’d established connections with party activists nationwide; and many of the scandals dogging Christie had faded from front pages.
As the Garden State Republican readied his presidential bid, Christie seemed awfully confident that he’d set the stage perfectly. He’d launch his national campaign in early 2015 and present himself as a top-tier contender, well positioned to win.
Two months later, Christie appears to be moving backwards.
The complaints have piled up for weeks, dismaying many longtime supporters of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and sending others into the arms of his rivals for the presidential nomination, according to interviews with more than two dozen Republican donors and strategists.As a half-dozen other candidates aggressively raise money and chase endorsements in Iowa and New Hampshire, friends and detractors alike say Mr. Christie’s view of his status and pre-eminence within the Republican field is increasingly at odds with the picture outside his inner circle.Policy advisers, donors and even a prominent New Jersey state senator who met his wife through Mr. Christie have all flirted with or committed to rival candidates.
At the national level, the New Jersey governor has seen his 2016 support drop quickly. In Iowa and New Hampshire, Christie’s unfavorable numbers outpace his favorable numbers.
Even Christie’s personal mentor, former Gov. Tom Kean (R), has not yet thrown his support to the governor – instead offering praise for Jeb Bush.
Obviously, it’s still early in the cycle, and candidates will enjoy peaks and valleys. For that matter, the notion that a candidate can lose a race nearly a year before voting begins is dubious.
But the evidence that Christie is faltering is hard to miss. National candidates generally avoid stumbling into a presidential campaign.
It may be early, but this is the stage at which donors, staffers, and party insiders effectively pick a team for the rest of the year. And at this point, Team Christie doesn’t have much of a pitch – the governor is unpopular with his own constituents; he’s plagued by unresolved scandals; his state’s economy is struggling with downgrades and weak job growth; some of his major donors are already moving to other candidates, and as the vaccinations story made clear, he can be his own worst enemy.
This is not a recipe for success.