The first GOP primary debate features 8 candidates — and one Trump-sized elephant in the room. Are any of the hopefuls fit to be president? Read this installment of MSNBC’s 2024 profile series and find out.
They say that all a man has is his word, and Chris Christie’s word has proved to be nearly worthless. You might therefore assume that Chris Christie has nothing, but that is not true. If he was running for New Jersey caricature in chief, he would be a strong contender, but for president, he has little to offer.
Christie’s problem is not that he is a venal man who stands for nothing; that is common enough among presidential candidates. His problem is that he is unable to pretend to stand for any particular thing long enough to convince a base of people that he can represent them. In a Republican Party defined by Trump, Christie made the fatal error in 2016 of whiplashing from “Never Trumper” to Trump acolyte faster than he could concoct a plausible cover story to explain it. In doing so, he exposed himself to both the pro- and anti-Trump wings of the party as a thirsty hanger-on continually looking to sell out. That Christie has decided to jump back into the race this year, styling himself as a hard-nosed Trump critic once again, is little more than a testament to his infinite appetite for eating crow in exchange for attention.
Not every state politician should go national. Had Christie paused his political career at governor of New Jersey, his personality flaws could have all been overlooked as authentic cultural markers of a real Jersey Boy. The confrontational rudeness of a man who declares the national teachers union deserves a punch in the face? The jaw-dropping callousness of a man who would inconvenience thousands of commuters and families by overseeing the partial shutdown of the world’s busiest bridge during the first week of school, deliberately causing massive traffic jams as retaliation for a political squabble? The brash arrogance of a man photographed lounging with his family in the sun after his own government had closed the state’s beaches? In New Jersey, it is possible to pass off this behavior as the winking embodiment of your state’s in-your-face attitude. Unfortunately for Christie, this shtick does not work outside his home state’s borders.
The political lane that would lead Christie to the White House is so narrow it can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Yet even his New Jersey constituency could hardly forgive the way Christie spent the early months of the 2016 Republican primaries declaring that “President of the United States is not a place for an entertainer,” only to drop out of the race and promptly endorse Trump. Christie’s reward for his obsequiousness was to be passed over for the vice president and attorney general jobs that he craved — a fact that he moaned about at length in a 400-page book.
This entire cycle — the petty vindictiveness as governor, the collapse of the tough-talking straight shooter candidate into craven sidekick, and the subsequent failure to reap any political reward for his debasement — is remarkable mainly because Christie never felt the need to act chagrined about any of it. Instead, after spending the last few years as a replacement-level TV pundit, he has leapt back into the fray, casting himself as the only candidate willing to attack Trump head-on. Most people who chase power with such naked hypocrisy take the time to try to construct a plausible cover story, but he has skipped that step, relying instead on the (probably true) assumption that no one has been paying much attention to him anyhow lately.
Like many Republican aspirants, Christie’s signature policy achievement consists of finding a group to demonize. In his case, that group was teachers unions (and public employee unions in general) whom he villainized for years as the source of all New Jersey’s fiscal troubles. In the unlikely event that Christie wins the 2024 primary, he would find himself the focus of the entire labor movement’s particular wrath, at a time when unions are peaking in both visibility and popularity. I doubt that any living voters know any more of his policy agenda beyond that signature issue, but if you’re curious, he has described himself as “pro-life,” is against an assault weapons ban and has spoken approvingly of cutting back Social Security benefits. Thus he is well positioned to lose the votes of working people, young people, old people and women. I will leave to statisticians the question of whether his base of high-income middle-aged fiscally conservative white males in New Jersey who supported Trump in 2016 but later turned against him and who harbor weirdly intense grudges against public school teachers is large enough to represent a majority in the 2024 election.
Sadly for Chris Christie, the political lane that would lead him to the White House is so narrow that it can’t be seen with the naked eye. His bluster may appeal to some aggrieved white men, but he cannot out-bluster Donald Trump; his “reasonable pundit” persona may appeal to some Republicans yearning for a return to normalcy, but he cannot out-normal Tim Scott or Nikki Haley; his clear willingness to scapegoat anyone and cross any line in pursuit of power may appeal to the party’s bullies, but he cannot out-bully Ron DeSantis. It is only a matter of time before Christie finds himself a two-time loser, just another governor who hit his head on the ceiling of national politics.
Read the rest of our GOP profile series here:
- Asa Hutchinson is Mr. Normal. That won’t fly in 2024.
- Donald Trump has been exactly who I thought he’d be
- How Doug Burgum sold out LGBTQ North Dakotans for conservative clout
- Mike Pence’s farce is our tragedy
- It’s still possible for Nikki Haley to get out of this without embarrassing herself
- Why Ron DeSantis’ Florida is such a frightening model for America
- Tim Scott really is too good to be true
- Vivek Ramaswamy’s polite style masks his MAGA extremism