Governor Chris Christie of my home-state, New Jersey, was the favored candidate of the GOP’s moneyed elite for the 2016 election before the Bridgegate scandal broke. He had the ear of Wall Street, the NY Media market, and a mouth capable of using those industries to leverage name recognition for a fierce primary run after the windfall of a sweep in the NJ gubernatorial election. The Bridge scandal hurt his reputation for efficient, bipartisan governance in a moderate North Atlantic state, but his desirability on the campaign trail and with GOP fundraising efforts have helped him maintain a base of support so that he may continue exploring a presidential run. Nearly a year ago I had wrote that Christie, despite his damaged image, may still have enough going for him in a GOP primary that’s sure to be stacked with unsavory figures. I find what I wrote privately a year ago even more relevant today.
The viability of a national political figures presidential prospects can be evaluated by the performance of a candidate in the following three areas:
Cash spent within the 2012 election cycle reached unprecedented levels. The campaigns of President Obama and candidate Mitt Romney alone disclosed to the Federal Election Commission that over two billion dollars was raised through September of that year. The ability to gather the necessary base of donors who will both open their checkbooks to you and fundraise on your behalf within their potential network is an integral part of a candidates viability for a run at the White House. Governor Chris Christie’s fundraising agility hasn’t stalled. On Tuesday February 11 the Republican Governors Association, a group Christie currently chairs, announced it brought in six million dollars in January, more than twice as much than has ever been raised during the same month in its history. Support for fundraising efforts by Republican donors has the potential to attract Congressional candidates’ back to his side on the campaign trail, and bolster his own prospects for 2016.
The Governors ability to create a connection with his political parties primary constituency is essential if he is to make it to the general election. in the aftermath of media criticism and judicial subpoenas associated with the lane closures on the GWB, Christie dropped 21 points in a hypothetical matchup against potential Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll. Voters changing opinion of the Governor after these events have been swift. However, many candidates have faced the challenge of a quick drop in poll numbers and managed to survive the fall. Governor Christie may do the same. The Republican base, those who vote in primary elections, could rally around Christie if they perceive that the events taking place in NJ have been unfairly politicized by both the “Liberal media” and Democratic Party in NJ. If the evidence doesn’t add up against Chris Christie legally, he may have even stronger support from his parties base than he had before the GWB story was awarded national attention. The Governor is already working on fostering a message that will appeal to those voters and independents. Speaking at the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday February 12 Christie laid out the contrast between what he supports, creating “income opportunity”, and what he says Democrats support, creating “income equality.” Whether voters will be able to see past the judicial hearings back in Trenton, is for now unknown.
Managing a campaign is tough. It’s a large task and that’s why candidates surround themselves with cadres of staff to help manage the burden and advise every action and opinion. If the current political crisis regarding the GWB doesn’t end in any legal trouble for Chris Christie, it will at the least create questions of the Governors ability to lead a campaign for the highest national office, let alone a White House administration. “I didn’t know” has become an important sound bite in how Christie has handled the events that took place on his watch by his staff. Excusing knowledge of wrongdoing may work out legally, but it begs the question: if the Governor surrounds himself with people of this type of character, who would put everyday commuters under such straining conditions for political revenge, how can voters in New Jersey and across the country be confident that this sort of aggression by unscrupulous underlings won’t happen on the Governors watch again? Fears of his competency and history may force advisers and organizers to jump ship to a Jeb Bush or Scott Walker.