The size of the likely 2016 GOP presidential field has become the dominant story in the Invisible Primary so far. Comparisons to “clown cars” have become inevitable, even among people who don’t think of Republican presidential candidates as “clowns.” Party professionals are expressing serious concerns about fitting them—or even a portion of them—on a debate stage. And talk of that pundit’s hot fudge sundae, the Brokered Convention, has begun earlier than I can ever remember.
So considerable excitement as well as ghoulish delight surrounds the prospect of any candidate dropping out, especially if they were at one point considered serious contenders. Right now the vultures are beginning to circle New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but it appears he may be the last man to figure it out. Just today, asked by the new nemesis of GOP candidates, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, about a poll showing 65 percent of New Jersey voters not wanting their governor to run for president, Christie blandly replied:
“They want me to stay…a lot of those people in that 65 percent want me to stay. And I’ve heard that from lots of people at town hall meetings. ‘Don’t leave to run for president because we want you to stay.'”
“But they say you would not make a good president,” Kelly responded.
“I think people hear the question they want to hear.”
Well, that’s sure true of Christie himself.
But the truth is Christie stands out in every poll over Republican proto-candidates in almost any state where there’s polling as someone GOP voters have considered and rejected. His favorable/unfavorable ratio in the most recent national poll of Republicans was at 31/52 (PPP, May 13). In an April poll for NBC asking if Republicans could envision themselves ever supporting various candidates, fully 50 percent said “no” to any support for Christie, far more than for any other name. In the latest Iowa survey (from Quinnipiac) he’s running eighth at 3 percent, despite very high name ID, and has a favorable/unfavorable ratio of 32/56.
Even in New Hampshire, a more naturally congenial state for Christie and one where he’s spent a lot of time, he’s not doing well. A May 6 WMUR/UNH survey showed him running tenth in the Granite State—behind Carly Fiorina—with 3 percent of the vote. And his favorable/unfavorable ratio, while better than it is nationally, was still underwater at 39/40.
Christie’s plunged so far in the Invisible Primary that pollsters have stopped testing him against Hillary Clinton, though an April poll for NBC had him losing to her by 19 points—not too great for a candidacy based heavily on electability.
But the biggest blow to Christie’s electability credentials has been his rapidly deteriorating popularity in New Jersey, which brings us to his latest bad news and his remarkable spin on it. The same Quinnipiac poll that showed 65 percent of New Jersey voters not wanting him to run for president also showed him with a dismal 38/56 job approval ratio. As TPM’s Daniel Strauss noted at the time, the poll gave Christie a real storm of brickbats:
Only 41 of those surveyed said Christie was trustworthy and honest while 52 percent disagreed. Similarly, the same percentage said Christie cares about the needs of New Jersey residents while 56 percent said he does not. Thirty-four percent said they approved of Christie’s handling of the economy while 57 percent said they disapproved. Likewise, 32 percent said they approved of how Christie has handled the state budget while 59 percent said they disapproved…
In a general election matchup against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, Clinton leads Christie 51 percent to 36 percent, the poll found.
So why’s Chris Christie still talking about running for president? After all, with the gigantic field, Republicans can surely find someone they like better than Christie to send out to lose New Jersey.
Now, it’s entirely possible Christie’s planning to quit the race any day now and is just spinning madly to keep that last trickle of donor money coming in. Maybe he has some dirt on other candidates that convinces him the dynamics are about to change. Perhaps he’s gotten bitten by the same second-term bug that appears to have infected Bobby Jindal, who gives the impression he’d rather be anyplace other than in the state he is supposed to be governing. Quite possibly he’s under a doctor’s regimen for gradual ego deflation, so that he doesn’t implode upon recognizing he’s not the next president of the United States.
One possibility created by one of his recent gambits is that he’s decided to stay in the race for good in order to play the role of the Doomed But Brave Truth-Teller. That would certainly explain why he recently came out for increased means testing of Social Security and Medicare benefits, which would hit the very heart of the GOP’s elderly white base, and for delaying the retirement age, another public opinion loser. This will earn him plenty of public praise from would-be entitlement reformers, along with sniggers from political professionals everywhere.
As to why Chris Christie would want to play this role—well, it beats me. You’d think he’d have other ways to get himself appointed to major boards populated with the kind of Serious People who love entitlement reform. But then presidential candidates are not like me and you. They don’t mind climbing out of clown cars.
Ed Kilgore is the principal blogger for Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog, Managing Editor of The Democratic Strategist, and a Senior Fellow at theProgressive Policy Institute. Earlier he worked for three governors and a U.S. Senator. He can be followed on Twitter at @ed_kilgore.