Chris Christie Makes 2016 Candidacy Official

Chris Christie announces Presidential campaign bid

Image courtesy of Chris Christie for President

Chris Christie Makes 2016 Candidacy Official
| published June 30, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

After two years of speculation, and after many months of on-the-ground campaigning, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie officially launched his Presidential campaign on Tuesday. Christie, who has been a presumed candidate for months, adds his name to a Republican field crowded with more than a dozen contenders.

The eyes of many political watchers have been on Chris Christie for years, but attention became more intense in late 2011 and early 2012 when—as the GOP faced serious slippage in national polls and Republican strategists feared Mitt Romney might accidentally sink the ship—Christie was courted by heavyweights within the Republican Party to enter the arena as a White Knight. Some believed that the nasty intramural splintering between Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Romney would shatter the party’s base, and Christie was seen as a possible savior. Christie generated even more attention when he was given a key speaking opportunity at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012, and again when he was selected to become the chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, a job widely seen as a position of grooming for a Presidential run.

Though Christie has in fact been campaigning for many months—making frequent appearances in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida—and though he formed his political action committee earlier this year, his candidacy was still contingent upon an official announcement of his intentions. Over the weekend, his campaign team retooled and rebuilt his website, and rolled out the new campaign slogan “telling it like it is.” Christie had also been ramping up meetings with donors and calls to potential heavy-hitter campaign contributors and backers.

Christie made his Presidential campaign official in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd in the gymnasium of the high school he attended in Livingston, New Jersey.

“America is tired of handwringing and indecisiveness and weakness in the Oval Office,” Christie said, “we need to have strength and decision-making and authority back in the Oval Office. And that is why today I am proud to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for President of the United States of America.”

“After seven years of a weak and feckless foreign policy, run by Barack Obama,” Christie told supporters, “we better not turn it over to his second mate Hillary Clinton.”

Christie was once the de facto front-runner among the many potential Republican candidates. But he faced a political crisis in late 2013 and early 2014 when some among his top staff were accused of engineering lane closures on the George Washington Bridge as a form of political retribution after Fort Lee, New Jersey Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, refused to endorse Christie in his last reelection campaign. The scandal forced Christie off-message and proved to be nearly catastrophic to his political future. Indeed, some political analysts suggested that even if Christie survived as governor, his presidential chances had become minimal.

Eventually, after several state and federal probes into the affair failed to link Christie directly to the scandal, the governor was able to battle back from the brink of extinction. But during that period, other Republicans gained traction, and pushed Christie lower in the polls. Christie must also face the criticism that the once robust economy of New Jersey has weakened substantially, bringing with it a predictable credit downgrade and a less-than-stellar jobs growth.

Christie, like a half dozen other Republican candidates, will use his management skills and his chief executive resume as evidence of his ability to manage the White House. The crowded field of GOP contenders has spurred a battlefield narrative which pits governors against U.S. Senators. Christie says his tough management style and his blunt communication skills—not to mention his successful terms as New Jersey Governor—will give him the advantage in November 2016 against presumed Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton. Indeed, Christie intends to try to turn his forthright manner and sometimes brusque personality into an asset voters will be drawn toward.

“We must tell each other the truth about the problems we have, and the difficulties of the solution,” Christie told the audience.

Christie spoke in the same high school where he once served as class president, and where his long path of political ambition began. Born in Newark in 1952, Christie has been a political activist and volunteer since his early teenage years. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 1984, and attended law school at Seton Hall. Christie went to work as an attorney, and later—after years of volunteering for candidates ranging from George H.W. Bush to Bob Dole to George W. Bush—was selected to become the U.S. Attorney for the State of New Jersey. Christie served in that role for six years, with a particular interest in pursuing cases involving corruption. He successfully lobbied to double the size of his office’s anticorruption division, and went after both Republicans and Democrats. His most high profile case was that of Democratic State Senator Wayne R. Bryant, charged with a variety of serious offenses including bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. Bryant’s 2008 conviction thrust Christie onto the national stage.

Christie’s supporters who knew him during that era say he was hardworking, fair, and undaunted, and they often cite Christie as being one of the most effective prosecutors ever to serve in New Jersey. But predictably many of his political adversaries and enemies suggest that his prosecutorial zeal was often motivated by political favoritism and by a desire to please the White House during the George W. Bush years. The anti-Christie camp points to the prosecution of Congressman Robert Menendez, who was at the time in the heat of an election campaign in New Jersey; though the timing of the subpoena—only two months before the election—remains a contentious issue even now, Menendez was eventually cleared of all charges in 2011.

Christie ran for Governor in 2009, with former Governor Thomas Kean openly supporting the Christie campaign. Christie easily defeated his GOP opponents, then, in November, edged out Democrat Jon Corzine by only 4%. Christie’s first order of business in early 2010 was the New Jersey state budget and its faltering, recession-plagued economy. He immediately battled Democrats in the legislature over both budget cuts and tax cuts. Facing a $2.2 billion budget deficit that spring, in February 2010 Christie declared a “state of fiscal emergency” in the Garden State and began attempting to slash spending, in many cases without consensus from the legislature. Christie also signed a law limiting property tax increases to two percent per year. Despite some improvements to the economy, and intermittent upticks in the employment numbers in his state, much fiscal business remains unresolved. Indeed, New Jersey faces some of the same problems which existed when he first took office.

The downside for Chris Christie will be the numerous downgrades to New Jersey’s credit rating and fiscal stability during the long battles over the budget, spending, and a contentious political flap and largely unresolved legal fight over the state’s pension fund. Political squabbling in New Jersey is a high form of art, but under Christie’s stewardship the state became a particularly nasty political environment.

Christie must also overcome his own most visible demon: his often sharp temperament. Christie’s strategists will seek to convert his prickly personality into an asset, recrafting him as a blunt Harry S. Truman or a gruff Teddy Roosevelt. Democrats will surely latch onto the opposing narrative: Christie is often a vindictive bully with a short temper and thin skin whose occasional outbursts in public—at citizens and reporters alike—distract from the harsh reality of his style of governance (my way or the highway). Christie will have to make the personality conversion work for a varied mix of Republicans in early primary states: polite and agreeable Iowans, flinty and fiercely independent New Hampshirites, and genteel but dubious South Carolinians automatically suspicious of folks from New York or New Jersey. Christie will have scant little time to stand apart from the crowd of GOP contenders before his candidacy is marginalized after Florida, and he hopes to cash in whatever points he possesses in the I’m-More-Candid-Than-You category before the campaign cash dries up.

That Christie is still admired for his tough talk and brawling political tone nevertheless indicates a soft spot in the hearts of some Republicans, especially those who recall that he was, only a few years ago, the party’s heir apparent—an anti-hero whose potential eclipsed that of Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Christie’s speech at the Republican convention in 2012 was a barnburner and received high television ratings, and that appearance placed him solidly on the track as de facto front-runner. But that was then, and this is now.

According to polls conducted by NBC News, more than half of Republicans say that they will not vote for Christie, period. But in reality that math gets complicated when there are more than a dozen candidates. Current polls show him adrift in the middle tier of a 13-candidate race, well behind Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson, but only slightly ahead of Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and Carly Fiorina. Like the rest of this baker’s dozen—which may grow even larger by mid-July—Christie must find his footing quickly when the first of the Republican debates commences in Cleveland.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Bobby Jindal Enters the GOP Contest; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; June 25, 2015.

Jeb Bush Kicks Off Presidential Campaign; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; June 15, 2015.