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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Chris Christie Doesn't Care That His 2016 Campaign Is Going Terribly

The New Jersey governor doesn't seem to mind that Republicans aren't sold on his angry fat man schtick: "There is only one Chris Christie, everybody, and this is it."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie presses flesh in New Hampshire. Photo by the author

On Monday evening, Paula Bowers braved the bitterly cold New Hampshire weather and joined about 200 other Republicans for a chance to hear New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at a dinner put on by local GOP groups. To Bowers, though, the appeal of the event was mostly a chance to hang out with other conservatives. She'd heard Christie talk a few times before, and the most diplomatic thing she could say about him was that he's a "strong voice for the party."


Sipping a cranberry juice with seltzer—she said she wanted to keep a sharp mind as she evaluates potential candidates—Bowers said she's still pretty far from reaching a decision about who to support in New Hampshire's first-in-nation Republican primary next year. "It's slow and steady," she said. "Nothing is really jumping out at me yet."

Christie's "strong voice" was definitely on display in New Hampshire this week. Addressing local conservative activists—the same ones who could decide the fate of his presidential aspirations—the New Jersey Republican spent much of his speech defending his brash reputation, which, depending on where you're sitting, can be characterized as "straightforward and direct" or "obnoxious and bullying." Quoting one Republican Party leader who told him "we don't want a kinder, gentler Chris Christie—we want the real Chris Christie," the likely 2016 presidential candidate declared, "There is only one Chris Christie, everybody, and this is it." He urged people to check out his town hall conversations with New Jersey voters, which have become famous for the governor's heated exchanges with teachers and other constituents.

For the most part, the people in the audience seemed to appreciate Christie's style, but ran a little lukewarm about his prospects. "I think the candidates that are going to succeed are going to get away from demonizing the other party," said attorney Jim Steiner, as the governor wound down a long-winded rant against all things Obama. "We may wait a long time for a candidate like that to come along."


The tepid reaction is perhaps unsurprising, as Christie's once supersize political ambitions appear to be gradually deflating. Early 2016 polls show the New Jersey governor in fourth place or so among a field of likely Republican presidential candidates, and a Quinnipiac survey released Wednesday found that Christie is the poorest performing Republican in several potential swing state match-ups. While former Florida governor Jeb Bush is sucking up oxygen and donations, Christie has been making unfortunate unforced errors, like defending anti-vaxxers and groping the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.

In the meantime, Christie's favorability and approval ratings have plummeted at home, thanks to New Jersey's struggling persistent economic troubles and state budget crises. This, combined with the Bridgegate scandal and other unflattering characterizations of Christie's administration, poses a particular problem for the governor, who has staked his national reputation on his success in bringing conservative policies to deep-blue New Jersey.

Like other East Coast conservatives who've thought about running for president, Christie's not-yet-declared presidential campaign would rely on support in New Hampshire, the early-voting state where the governor is least likely to face criticism that he is too moderatefor the Republican base. But New Hampshire voters are used to picking presidents, and activists I spoke to at the Christie dinner this week made it clear they won't be deciding any time soon.


"I really think this is the best bunch the Republicans have had in a long time," said Juliana Bergeron, a New Hampshire member of the Republican National Committee. Bob Heghmann, a retired lawyer and former long-shot senate candidate, took a less sunny view, telling me that candidates are too focused on advice from their consultants. "Their theme is, 'Don't say anything to offend anyone, and run negative commercials against the other guy,'" he said.

In a state where presidential candidates have to almost literally shake each voter's hands to have a shot at winning a primary, every activist has an opinion. Steve Duprey, another Republican National Committee member, said he hopes the candidates this time around will address the "opportunity gap" faced by working-class voters: "Everybody's saying 'Wall Street's doing better, but I'm not doing better."

Michelle Lecuyer, a 49-year-old activist manning the booth for long-shot GOP candidate Ben Carson, said she's looking for someone different. ""I think it's time for someone who hasn't been in the political establishment," she said. "George Washington didn't have political experience. Dwight D. Eisenhower didn't have political experience."

Still, Christie is not without his fans. "The reason I like him is he is honest and he is direct," said Matthew Pitaro, a young activist who has worked for Republican candidates in the state "Whatever he says is generally from the heart." Jay DeGreenia, a self-described independent whose sweater and hoop earrings stood out among the crowd of suits, agreed.

"I like Christie's attitude," DeGreenia said. "He doesn't take any crap. He has a problem with his filter—so do I."

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