In early 2016, when candidates Donald Trump and Chris Christie were double-teaming candidate Marco Rubio, Trump liked to say that Rubio couldn’t get elected dog-catcher in Florida.
Trump was wrong. That November, the good people of Florida reelected Rubio to the U.S. Senate.
Could Christie get elected dog-catcher in New Jersey? Maybe last week, though with his approval rating as governor at 15 percent, it wouldn’t have been easy. Now, I think he would have no chance.
Christie and New Jersey Democrats had been locked in a stalemate over the state’s budget. As a result, state parks and beaches, along with many other government services, were closed. With the long July 4th weekend coming up, the closing of the state beaches was a downer for many Jersey residents.
Not for Chris Christie and his family. They spent Sunday lounging on a state beach that was closed to the public as a result of the budget standoff. The beach adjoined an official vacation mansion that is available for use by the New Jersey governor.
Christie’s beach outing was captured from the sky by a photographer for a New Jersey newspaper. The photo of Christie and his brood on an otherwise deserted state beach was juxtaposed with photos of overcrowded non-state beaches that were available to the public. Naturally, the story created a sensation.
Christie explained that the beach outing had been planned long ago by his son who was visiting from out of town. “We don’t have a lot of time to spend together as a family anymore,” he said. But the family could have spent time together without being on the beach. His wouldn’t have been the only New Jersey family inconvenienced by the absence, for the first part of the weekend, of a budget deal. (A deal was reached on Monday.)
Christie’s other, more to the point response was to say: “That’s just the way it goes. Run for governor, and you can have a residence.” This kind of talk once endeared Christie to New Jersey voters. It also had many Republicans in other jurisdictions thinking about Christie for president.
But that was when his combativeness seemed to be brought to bear in support of the little guy, against insider coziness, if not corruption. Now, it is being brought to bear in support of the governor’s coziness while the little guy can’t use the state the beach.
As Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who advised Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, put it:
[Christie’s] rise to national prominence was that he had this reputation as a fighter, and that when he was fighting, he was on the side of the Everyman and the New Jersey taxpayer against the status quo. I think the danger of the photos is that it undermines that.
Actually, as his approval number shows, Christie’s reputation already was undermined by bridge-gate, among other things. After beach-gate, it is probably destroyed.
Christie may not care. It’s doubtful that he intends to run for office in New Jersey again.
The big question for Christie is whether, once his term as governor expires, he will receive an appointment from President Trump to a position more substantial than dog-catcher. Currently, he chairs a presidential commission on the opioid epidemic.
Trump may not be the kind of guy who holds Christie’s beach outing against him, though it would likely be the subject of a nasty tweet if Christie were a political opponent. On the other hand, it’s possible that Trump will shy away from bestowing a major appointment on a man who is the object of so much ridicule.
In any case, Christie can serve as an object lesson for Trump. Just a few years ago, Christie was much more popular in New Jersey than Trump has ever been nationally. Now, in part because of his arrogance, Christie is about as popular as the plague.
Trump may not be sufficiently tone-deaf to pull some of the stunts that helped cause Christie’s popularity to tank. But those who defend, across-the-board, Trump’s defiance of presidential norms, on the theory that it doesn’t seem to have hurt him yet, should entertain the possibility that he is beginning to lose political capital in something like the way Christie did.