From the opening paragraph of his second inaugural speech on Tuesday, New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie left the door wide open to a presidential run – but to succeed he’ll need to overcome not only the scandals popping up within his administration, but also a Republican base mistrustful of anyone willing to compromise with Democrats.
Christie opened his remarks yesterday by commenting on the oath of office he had just taken. “It is an oath that I have lived by for the last four years,” he said. “It is the oath I will live by…” not for another four years, but, “for every day I am privileged to call myself your Governor.”
It’s hardly evidence that Christie is already looking toward the Oval Office and an election more than two-and-a-half years away, but given his prominence in the discussion of potential GOP nominees, every public word he says between now and the Republican convention in 2016 will be weighed and measured for what it says about his designs on the White House.
It cannot be lost on many in the Republican Party that Christie won reelection by a large and bipartisan margin in a state that hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential race since 1988. But some seasoned political analysts believe that while Christie might be a viable national candidate in a general election, his chances of securing the Republican nomination are tenuous at best.
“The nomination has always been and remains a very heavy lift for Chris Christie,” said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report. “In spite of all the early hype and polls, which reflect little more than his name ID and early media coverage, Christie simply isn't a natural fit with the party's conservatives, who will pick the next nominee.”
Christie’s 18-minute inaugural address on Tuesday was a clear example of why he might struggle to attract support from Republicans in more conservative states. Aside from a statement at “every one of God’s creations has value” – in the context of personal compassion for the unfortunate, not abortion – the social issues that animate many deeply conservative voters were virtually absent from the speech.
He took a few pro forma shots at “big government” and “redistribution and higher taxes,” but even his concession that government can be “one part of the solution” to current economic troubles might be too much for many conservative voters. And among members of a primary electorate who identify themselves in large part by what they are not – not liberal, not politically correct, not compromising – his assertion that “we have to be willing to play outside the red and blue boxes the media and pundits put us in” may not play as well as it does in a blue state in the Northeast.
His poll numbers among the far right Tea Party conservatives in the Republican base are not encouraging either. A Pew poll released Tuesday showed that Christie’s unfavorable ratings nationwide have doubled to 34 percent since last year, with much of that movement due to the recent scandals. Among Republicans in general, Christie’s favorability rating stayed fairly steady, dropping from 49 percent to 48 percent, while his unfavorable rating went from 19 percent to 29 percent. But among Tea Partiers, his favorability dropped from 54 percent to 51 percent, while his unfavorable rating jumped from 22 percent to 36 percent.
Christie’s presidential hopes aren’t being helped by the steady stream of scandal-related news in the headlines. The ongoing investigation into why Christie’s close aides and associates engineered four days of gridlocked traffic on the George Washington Bridge, which paralyzed the town of Fort Lee, will dog the governor for some time. The claim by the mayor of Hoboken over the weekend that Christie aides conditioned Hurricane Sandy relief funding on her approval of a redevelopment project important to Christie, and a federal inspector general’s acknowledgement last week that Christie’s administration is being investigated for misuse of other hurricane relief funds won’t help.
When Christie traveled to Florida this weekend, Florida Governor Rick Scott managed to avoid any photo opportunities with him – despite the fact as head of the Republican Governors’ Association, part of Christie’s job is to use his image to raise money and support for fellow Republican governors.
The apparent decline in Christie’s chances has some pundits suggesting that the Democrats’ chances of retaking the White House in 2016 are virtually dead. Without Christie, they say, there’s nobody else out there electable on a national scale.
Not everyone agrees, though.
“Does the GOP need Christie to have any chance in 2016? I can't imagine that now, almost three years before the election, any sane person would think that Christie and only Christie would have a chance for the Republicans,” said Rothenberg. “Who knows what will happen with the economy, the [Affordable Care Act] and foreign policy between now and November of 2016?”
“The GOP will be at a slight disadvantage in the Electoral College, but if voters want change and Republicans offer a reasonable messenger, that nominee will certainly have a chance of winning,” he said. “Who might fill that bill? Well, I'm not sure who will run, but folks like [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, [Louisiana Gov.] Bobby Jindal or [former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush certainly might fill the bill. It's early -- far, far too early to say that it's Christie or defeat. “
Follow Rob Garver on Twitter @rrgarver
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times:
- Medicare Execs Are Overpaying $35 Billion a Year…And They Don’t Seem to Care
- Why ‘Too Big to Fail’ Is a Bigger Problem Than Ever
- A Double Hit for the States: Recession + Federal Cuts