He’s outlasted a former vice president and a sitting United States Senator, but in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, former Gov. Chris Christie may have peaked.
He’s largely fallen out of the national conversation, failing to even rate a mention in much of the national news coverage, losing visibility to former President Donald Trump’s lead, the surge into second place by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and the descending star of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
While the departure of former vice president Mike Pence and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott reduced the field to a more manageable five, it highlighted the gap that persists between Haley and DeSantis and Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and renewed speculation over whether it is simply a matter of time before Christie accepts reality and ends his campaign.
He’s staked his future on the New Hampshire primary and has vowed to remain in the race through that contest in January.
He’s polling at 11 percent there, in third place four points point ahead of DeSantis, seven points behind Haley, and 35 points behind Trump.
In the Iowa caucuses that Christie has ignored, he polls at 3.7 percent and in South Carolina at three percent. Nationally, he’s stuck in fifth place at 2.5 percent.
With low polling numbers, he’s in jeopardy of failing to qualify for the debate in Alabama next month, another indication his candidacy is hanging by a thread.
The good news for him there is that the debates have devolved into a national joke, a humiliating display that no longer holds any meaning or significance as evidenced by the steady shrinkage in the size of the television audience.
Christie shares the less than double digit percentage of support with Ramaswamy, an embarrassment of a man who grows more preposterous by the day as he spouts goofy ideas, attacks wildly in all directions, and generally makes a fool of himself.
For as long as he stares into the funhouse mirror and sees the distorted reflection of a presidential candidate staring back, Ramaswamy will continue his delusional pursuit.
Christie — like Ramaswamy — may be ego driven but he is also a clear-eyed realist with keen political instincts and skills.
His entire campaign rested on his belief that the only clear path to the nomination for him was a relentless belaboring and berating of Trump.
The decision by the former president to ignore the debates — in retrospect, a wise strategy — worked to Christie’s disadvantage by denying him the opportunity to attack Trump directly in front of a massive audience and build on his boast that he was the only candidate in the race with the backbone to take on Trump and seriously diminish him as an electable candidate.
In a direct confrontation, Christie would have mopped the floor with his erstwhile friend.
Instead, he embarked on an endless round of media appearances, driving his message to print reporters, radio and television audiences and talk show hosts.
He piled insult upon insult on Trump, questioning his intellect and honesty, emphasizing his failures as a one term president and warning that Republicans would lose the White House as well as control of Congress in an anti-Trump landslide in 2024.
Making his case to cable television talking heads who nodded somberly in agreement with each Christie fusillade was considerably less effective and jarring as a face to face confrontation.
It was not for a lack of trying and effort that Christie was unable to bait Trump into engaging directly with him.
For the most part, Trump ignored his barbs, adopting the dismissive attitude of a candidate at 50 percent toward one with three percent. Christie was left punching at a ghost.
At the same time, Christie earned the hostility of the dedicated Trump base of support, consistently ranking among Republicans as the most disliked of the candidates.
Six months have elapsed since Christie launched his campaign and, aside from meeting the polling and donor criteria to secure a spot in the debates, there is frustrating little to show for it.
He has failed to break 10 percent in polling and, in fact, in the Real Clear Politics polling average, he achieved five percent only three times.
While Haley rose steadily in the polls and is now Trump’s closest competitor — albeit still some 30 points behind — Christie hasn’t been able to separate himself from the pack.
He desperately needs an exceptionally strong showing in New Hampshire — such as defeating DeSantis, for instance — or face growing pressure to leave the race and throw his support behind Haley.
He’s pushed all his chips into the pot in New Hampshire and continuing to soldier on following a disappointing showing there would place him in much the same situation faced by Pence and Scott before they conceded.
It would be difficult, indeed, to discern a clear path forward for Christie, an outcome that would not be lost on major donors who — as the campaign unfolds — gravitate to those whose prospects and potential remain bright.
He appears to have reached a plateau, exhausting his upward momentum while time is running out to regain it.
It is likely that 2024 will be Christie’s last hurrah, his final attempt to compete for a chance to achieve the pinnacle of power embodied in the United States presidency.
His 2016 campaign ended with a loss in New Hampshire and, with his endorsement of Trump then, he began his short-lived entrance into Trump’s orbit. He — like many others — quickly discovered it was a precarious place to be.
Moral victories may ease the sting of falling short and receiving the comfort of well-wishers, but in the often cold, cruel world of power politics, it brings to mind the cynical observation of a veteran of campaign combat whose identity has been mercifully lost: “Second place just means you’re the first loser.”
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
(Visited 16 times, 16 visits today)