photo by Michael Vadon
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has had a tough year so far.
His presidential hopes had been clinically dead for quite some time, but it took his sixth-place finish in New Hampshire in early February to prompt him to finally withdraw from the race. Before he did, however, Christie seemed to pre-emptively align himself with Jeb Bush, possibly pinning his hopes on currying favor with a potential winner by kneecapping the competition (in this instance, Sen. Marco Rubio) on Bush’s behalf.
After that short-lived alliance ended with Bush’s departure from the race, Christie humiliated himself at Donald Trump’s shoulder. In late February, Christie announced his endorsement at a press conference, shocking many observers. But it was his appearance a few days later, on Super Tuesday, that truly grabbed national attention. After introducing Trump at the candidate’s press conference, Christie’s facial expression while standing behind Trump inspired a wave of facetious concern from Twitter users and professional commentators alike. MSNBC invited its followers to caption Christie’s inscrutable expression during the speech; “Saturday Night Live” spoofed the moment a few days later.
As a rule of thumb, if you need to reassure everyone that you were not being held hostage by the candidate you endorsed, something has gone seriously wrong.
The appearance itself was bad enough. But now Christie’s defensive reactions to those who are mystified by his endorsement of Trump may signal that not only is his run at the presidency over, his viability as a Republican candidate for any federal elected office might be, too.
Take Christie’s April 1 appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. Since the beleaguered governor was trying to redeem his dignity with an April Fools’ Day interview conducted by a not-terribly-sympathetic host, you might think he would have prepared some witty repartee. It wasn’t obvious that he did, however. When Fallon placed a cardboard cutout of Christie at the governor’s shoulder and asked if he found it distracting, Christie tried to play it straight, insisting, “He looks serious. He’s listening.”
Christie did try to make a joke or two, saying he would have endorsed Fallon instead if Fallon had run for president. But the jokes did not land with the live audience or, presumably, much of anyone else.
The governor has been equally defensive in press conferences and serious interviews since announcing his endorsement. “You get one Trump question a press conference,” he told a reporter last week.
But even if he were capable of providing charming, flawless answers to questions about what (apart from raw ambition) led him to back Trump, Christie would be unlikely to undo the damage he has done to his career. New Jersey Republicans, who normally show unquestioning loyalty, have hesitated to follow Christie’s lead where Trump is concerned. Some have even openly criticized the endorsement. His poll numbers in New Jersey have slumped, and six New Jersey newspapers issued a joint editorial calling on him to resign. Nationally, where Christie was much less popular to begin with, he has effectively shredded what remained of his reputation. His defensive responses have only made the situation worse.
I doubt Christie ever thought he would be a viable vice presidential candidate, despite some speculation to the contrary. But attorney general in a Trump administration may, at one point, have sounded both appealing and plausible. Some commentators have also theorized that, given the timing of the endorsement, Christie may have expected other establishment Republicans to follow his lead. That did not happen.
Rick Wilson, a Florida Republican consultant, summed up Christie’s situation for Politico: “In the history of political bad decisions, this is the New Coke of bad decisions.”
So not only is Christie’s run at the White House done, his Trump endorsement means that his political career as a whole may be drawing to a close. I expect we will see Christie go into private practice once his current term as governor runs out.