Bruised Chris Christie Joins Republican Presidential Race

The New Jersey governor has lost much of his shine since he first appeared on the national stage.

Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey makes an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26
Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey makes an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26 (Gage Skidmore)

New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, said on Tuesday he would run for his party’s presidential nomination, joining more than a dozen contenders for the nation’s highest office and increasing the chances of a split in the relatively moderate conservative vote.

Christie earlier said he was staking his bid on “telling it like it this,” arguing, for example, that popular entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, which finance health care and pensions for the elderly, respectively, need to be overhauled.

“My goal for Social Security and Medicare is to make sure it’s there for the people who need it,” Christie said in the early primary state of New Hampshire in April. “The system won’t survive any other way.”

Forecasts prove him right but it is unclear if Christie’s willingness to take on entitlements will help his popularity at a time when the economy is picking up and fewer Americans see the need for drastic changes.

Earlier this month, his approval rating in New Jersey hit a 30 percent low.

Like Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who announced a candidacy last week, Christie may have missed his chance.

Four years ago, he was a breath of fresh air. Heavily in debt and struggling to create jobs, New Jersey could use some of his tough talk and the media praised him for shying away from divisive social issues like gay marriage and immigration.

Now he seems more like a bully.

Christie has never really recovered from allegations made in 2013 that his staffers deliberately created a traffic jam in Fort Lee, across the Hudson River from New York City, in retribution for the city’s mayor’s refusal to support his reelection.

Investigations have so far cleared Christie of involvement but critics say he created a political atmosphere in Trenton that made opponents fair game.

Christie did battle with the state’s powerful teachers unions in order to weaken tenure, reforms that were hailed by conservatives but are overshadowed by his abrasive style and — most damaging — his persistent inability to balance New Jersey’s books.

Christie set out to reduce an $11 billion budget shortfall with spending cuts alone. He vetoed income tax rises and capped property taxes, leaving an $800 million gap in the state’s budget this year.

New Jersey is still one of the heaviest taxed states in America. Rating agencies have downgraded New Jersey’s creditworthiness nine times since Christie took office. Unemployment has come down from a 9.8 percent high in early 2010 but, at 6.5 percent in April, is still above the national average.

Christie has attacked his main opponent, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, as the candidate of “the elites in Washington,” apparently seeking to portray himself as more of a populist. But he is unlikely to endear social conservatives and tea partiers anyway who see him as a blue-state centrist, leaving Christie to vie for the same center-right voters as Bush. If they split that moderate vote, which typically coalesces around the eventual nominee, it could benefit more right-wing candidates like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry.