Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Bet on Trump, Using Party's Chips, Too

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Bet on Trump, Using Party's Chips, Too

Article excerpt

Back in July, Governor Christie justified taking perhaps his last bold gamble, the placing of all of his political capital in Donald Trump's rollicking roulette wheel of a presidential campaign.

Christie explained to a banquet room filled with New Jersey GOP stalwarts that signing on with Trump made the state party relevant. It meant maybe winning a perch of power for Christie and his Jersey confidants in a Washington, D.C., turned upside down by President Trump.

"It's about taking risk," Christie told a polite, but tired, remnant of the state party gathered at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

With the election still hanging in the balance, Christie's payoff is not clear. Christie's popularity and credibility continued to crumble in the wake of the recently concluded George Washington Bridge lane closing trial, which ended in the conviction of two former top associates. And in the final weekend of the campaign, Christie, one of the most colorful political talents, someone who thrives in front of crowds -- his lengthy, fire-breathing indictment of Hillary Clinton was one of the highlights of the Republican National Convention -- stayed off the campaign trail. And according to an NBC News report, Christie was not considered for one of the top posts in a Trump administration.

Christie used his muscle to line up the county Republican Party chairmen behind Trump, despite the state GOP's heritage of moderate, inclusive centrism. Party operatives who launched the careers of Thomas H. Kean and Christie Whitman now have their resumes blotted by backing Trump, the darling of the "alt-right," and white nationalists, the celebrity predator and immigrant basher.

And now Christie and the New Jersey Republicans face the reckoning of a dual-identity crisis. They will be part of the national soul-searching about the GOP -- will it become more inclusive, and reopen the flap of the Big Tent and welcome in Latinos, millennials and women who were appalled by Trump's misogyny and his offensive rhetoric? Will it pander to or reject the "alt- right" nationalists who were drawn to the Trump candidacy? And how will it harness the disenfranchised blue-collar white males in the new age of Hillary Clinton?

But the post-Trump campaign also forces New Jersey's GOP to face the reality of a post-Christie world.

Despite his former star power and his ability to raise enormous piles of cash, Christie's popularity has now plunged below 20 percent, earning him entry into a fraternity of governors saddled with pariah-like status. Former Gov. Brendan T. Byrne -- dubbed "one- term Byrne" because of public anger over the new state income tax -- registered a 17 percent rating in 1977, and Gov. Jim Florio notched 18 percent in 1990 amid the brewing revolt over his historic package of tax increases.

Yet, there is a key difference between Christie and his predecessors.

Both Byrne and Florio still had time to resurrect their careers after notching those lows. Byrne went on to win a second term and have an arena named after him. Florio was bounced from office three years later, but lost by only three points. Christie is bottoming out while his time is running out in Trenton.

"There will be a lot of soul searching for [New Jersey] Republicans moving forward," said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. "It has an identity that is linked to a negative brand."

Christie never spent much time developing the state party into a long-term, sustainable machine.

He used the party to pay legal bills for the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal, pay for his political travel and basically promote his ambitions. On Monday afternoon -- and on the eve of the biggest election in the new century -- the state GOP was urging its rank and file to tune into Christie's post-GWB trial interview with Charlie Rose of CBS News. …

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