If ridicule and taunts translated into support, former Gov. Chris Christie would be hard on the heels of ex-president Donald Trump in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination.
They aren’t and he isn’t.
When Christie entered the race in June, he embraced a scorched earth strategy, gambling that an all out assault on Trump’s character, intellect and integrity would resonate with Republican voters worried that the former president’s candidacy would be disastrous for the party.
The Christie campaign team sought to distance him from the rest of the field to avoid being just another face in the don’t-offend-the-Donald crowd.
To that extent, the strategy has been successful. Christie parlayed his belligerence and bombast into a ubiquitous presence on network and cable talk shows, interview sessions, public appearances and social media platforms.
He spread the anti-Trump gospel with increasing intensity, challenging him to debate, threatening to follow him around the country, and predicting that, should Trump win the nomination, he’d conduct his campaign from a jail cell.
To the extent he succeeded, he failed.
Upon entering the race, Christie polled at two percent support. Five months later, in the Real Clear Politics average, he’s in sixth place at 2.7 percent, having reached five percent only three times and never breaking into double digits.
His name is now being mentioned as a potential dropout, along with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and entrepreneur Vivek Ramasamy. Former Vice President Mike Pence, faced with a cash crunch and a lack of progress, has already left the race.
By portraying himself as the only candidate capable of saving the Republican Party from the clutches of another Trump candidacy — “I am the cavalry,” he boasted to a New Hampshire audience —- Christie foreclosed any possibility of a shift in strategy should he fail to rally significant support to his side.
Any sign that he’d be less strident or ease off the verbal kneecapping of the former president would quickly be interpreted as an admission the strategy was a miscalculation and would strengthen Trump by cloaking him in an aura of invincibility.
For his part, Trump has responded to Christie’s onslaught by lobbing insults of his own toward him or by dismissing him as inconsequential — a candidate with three percent support and no hope of improving.
Christie has vowed to remain a candidate at least through the New Hampshire primary in January, hoping that after ignoring the Iowa caucuses, the time and money he’s invested there will pay off in a strong finish at least in the top three.
At 8.5 percent support, he’s trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 10 percent and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at 14 percent. All fall far behind Trump at 46 percent.
If New Hampshire is make or break for him, Christie must overcome DeSantis and achieve a double digit outcome. Finishing fourth with less than 10 percent of the vote will ratchet up the pressure on him to withdraw as he did in 2016 after finishing in sixth place and endorsing Trump.
Embracing the anti-Trump strategy was a risky move, a bold gamble that Republicans had soured on the former president and would react favorably to an equally force of nature personality but who was free of the political and legal baggage weighing on Trump.
The continued insistence that the 2020 election was rigged to defeat Trump despite the lack of any evidence had worn embarrassingly thin and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol had so deeply repelled the nation that it would turn against him.
Combined with four Federal or state criminal indictments and the prospect of prolonged trials and damaging testimony, a Trump comeback was out of the question.
To the astonishment of the party establishment, Trump’s base of party support remained unshaken. Each allegation against him seemed to solidify and increase his standing, propelling him to first place in the field and keeping him there.
He has held leads of upwards of 50 points over his competition and attained a momentum so strong that securing the nomination is inevitable.
National polling shows him defeating President Biden, including in a half dozen swing states capable of turning the election in his favor.
Even though he’s been heckled, booed and jeered by pro Trump crowds, Christie has remained unapologetic, sticking doggedly to his strategic outline reaching new levels of ridicule and taunting.
It hasn’t budged the needle on his favorability meter, though, and in the end Christie may be left withing nothing but an expanse of scorched earth.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
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Author: Carl Golden