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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Republicans Have Finally Turned on Chris Christie

The New Jersey governor's presidential ambitions are DOA, and now even GOP leaders in his home state are jumping ship.
May 8, 2015, 7:37pm
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Eighteen months ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made the jump from rising Republican star to a national figure. He had just won re-electionin deep-blue New Jersey by a landslide, beating Democratic state senator Barbara Buono by 22 points. He was already squaring off against libertarian-minded Republicans like Senator Rand Paul for the soul of theparty, and his win—juxtaposed with the defeat of right-wing Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli on the same night—staked his position as the earliest of frontrunners for the 2016 Republican nomination.

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Just a year and a half later, Christie's chances of winning the presidency have evaporated. An April NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of Republican presidential contenders showed Christie with just 5 percent support, behind most of the other potential candidates.And although Christie seems to spend moretime in New Hampshire than in New Jersey these days, a recent PPP survey of New Hampshire voters showed that Christie is by far the least popular Republican presidential contender there.

As his poll numbers have dropped, Christie's supporters have started to jump ship. New Jersey state senator Joseph Kyrillos, one of the governor's closest political allies in the New Jersey Senate and the chairman of his 2009 campaign, recently endorsed Bush, who hasn't even formally announced his campaign yet. According to Politico, several other former Christie allies have defected to the Bush camp as well, including Brian Nelson, a lobbyist who led Christie's gubernatorial transition team, and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, a major Republican donor.

But Christie's national problems pale in comparison to how he's faring in his home state. His approval rating is the lowest it's ever been, at just 38 percent. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that even among New Jersey Republicans, Christie's strongest base of support, just 22 percent would vote for him if the Republican primary were held today. Combined with his on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again friendship with former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, one of the most respected Republican figures in the state, and Kyrillos' defection, it all suggests that even the state's GOP leaders are suffering from Christie fatigue.

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So what happened? Why has the nation—and his home state—turned on New Jersey's bombastic governor?

The most obvious reason is Bridgegate. The scandal over the George Washington Bridge lane closures that erupted early last year has re-emerged this week, with federal prosecutors filing charges against three conspirators, all aides and former Christie allies. The governor has tried to distance himself from the scandal and especially David Wildstein, a former classmate of Christie's who worked at the Port Authority at the time of the lane closures. Wildstein, a notoriously loyal political operative whose ties to Christie go back to their high school baseball team and work on former Governor Thomas Kean's 1977 campaign, was known as Christie's "eyes and ears" inside the Port Authority.

For Christie', who has a reputation for political retribution, to claim that he wasn't involved in the lane closures stretches credulity for most voters, especially in New Jersey, a state infamous for its deeply entrenched— and bipartisan—tradition of political corruption. So it's not surprising that a Monmouth University poll released this week showed that 56 percent of New Jersey voters think Christie was personally involved in the bridge closure, and nearly two-thirds believe he should resign if his involvement is ever proved.

Christie's Bridgegate troubles have been compounded by the fact that he's barely ever in Trenton, even as he faces major questions about Bridgegate and the state's pension system. Aspiring presidential candidates oftenneglect the jobs they have in order to campaign for the one they want, but Christie has taken it to a new level: He's been on trade trips to Mexico, spent just enough time in London to meet with David Cameron and say some next-level dumb shit about vaccines, flew himself and his family to Jordan on the taxpayer dime, and pandered to rooms full of Iowa farmers. But Christie's true love is New Hampshire. The dude is constantlycampaigninginNew Hampshire.

Christie's positions, as well, are starting to reflect his status as a Republican presidential candidate more than his role as governor of New Jersey. In an attempt to make up for the hit to his reputation—and save his nascent campaign—the governor has been moving further and further to the right, calling on conservatives to keep fighting against same-sex marriage, expressing exasperation over the minimum wage, and promising to"crack down" on legal marijuana. Not surprisingly, none of those positions align with the majority of his state's voters.

Simply put, New Jersey elected a moderate Republican, and lately, they've gotten someone with Rick Perry's politics, Mark Sanford's availability, and Rod Blagojevich's moral compass. And as concerning as it may be for Christie's national supporters to see the governor fall so hard in early primary polls, a rocky end to his tenure as governor could be damn near catastrophic for the New Jersey Republican Party. In one of the few states on the coasts where Republicans are still competitive, the lane closure scandal—and Christie's poor response to it—has damaged not only his own reputation, but also the state party's argument that they're the honest, fiscal responsible, and socially moderate voice in New Jersey politics.

And if Republican leaders in his home state are openly pondering if Christie has ruined their chances at keeping the Governor's mansion in 2017 and a majority of New Jersey voters are finished with his governorship, Christie can pretty much write off any hope of moving into that other mansion in 2016.

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