Chris Christie was never going to be the president of the United States. That issue was settled long before gridlock set in on the lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge. The New Jersey governor’s record on the critical measures for any state executive bidding for the presidency in 2016—job creation and economic growth—were dismal, and his positions on economic and social issues were far too conservative to attract swing voters in a country that had already rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney.
What remained uncertain was whether a Republican Party that has not nominated a winning candidate with a name other than “Bush” since the 1980s would gamble on Christie. And that issue is now settled, as well.
Even before The New York Times reported on Friday that former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein, an old friend of the governor who gained his position with Christie’s blessing, has written a letter explaining that it was on “the Christie administration’s order” that access lanes to the bridge were closed—thus gridlocking Fort Lee, a city where the Democratic mayor had refused to endorse the Republican governor’s re-election bid—Republicans across the country were looking elsewhere.
After his re-election last fall, Christie led the Republican pack in national polls and polls from battleground states.
A Washington Post/ABC News survey released this week determined that Christie “appears to have suffered politically from the bridge-traffic scandal engulfing his administration.”
That’s polite newspeak for: Christie’s numbers among those most likely to support him have tanked.
In the Post poll, only 43 percent of Republicans viewed the governor favorably—not that much better than his favorable rating among Americans in general: 35 percent.
The survey found that Christie had sunk to a weak third-place position in the nomination race, with support from just 13 percent of Republican-leaning voters. The candidates who have benefitted most from the governor’s collapse—nationally known Republicans with big names and well-established histories—were soaring. Congressman Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, who is looking a little more like a 2016 contender these days, was at 20 percent. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was at 18 percent.
Worse yet for Christie, his 13 percent support level was barely better than that found for Texas Senator Ted Cruz (12 percent), Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (11 percent.) and Florida Senator Marco Rubio (10 percent).
There was a line of analysis that suggested Christie—who after a marathon press conference three weeks ago, in which he tried and failed to explain himself, has pretty much avoided the media—might ride the storm out and get back into contention.
But reality has to be dawning on even the most ardent Christie enthusiasts, now that Wildstein’s lawyer has released the letter claiming that “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference.”
It is too early to say where the inquiries and investigations of the bridge scandal—and all the other scandals that have arisen in its wake—will ultimately end up. Christie’s hirelings are still spinning out denials — ripping Wildstein and raging atThe New York Times. But it should be clear by now that the sorting out of this governor’s troubles is going to take a very long time. Christie will be fighting in that time not to restore his presidential prospects but to retain his current position. Better than any of the “Christie Knew” and “You’re Lying, Gov” headlines of Saturday morning, The Newark Star Ledger summed Christie’s mess up best: “If (what Wildstein says) proves to be true, then the governor must resign or be impeached.”
This is not the sort of conversation that is had about a credible contender for any office, let alone the 2016 Republican nomination.
And this is why the time really has come to accept that Chris Christie’s brief period as a presidential prospect is absolutely finished.