Chris Christie’s House of Cards

A lot of us, myself included, haven’t been taking Chris Christie very seriously as a 2016 presidential candidate for a while. His poll numbers really, really suck. Conservatives accuse him of the kind of multiple heresies that only really, really good poll numbers can offset. The shadow of the hoosegow haunts his every move. And Jeb Bush is in the process of taking away most of the money that could have financed a Christie run.

But as New York Times‘ columnist Gail Collins points out, the real coup de grace to Christie ’16 was administered by a state judge a few days ago in a ruling that blew up the governor’s much-discussed “pension reform” initiative. That in turn threatened to blow up the state budget, and the damage to the blustery big man is likely to go on and on:

Fixing New Jersey’s pension system was supposed to be Christie’s signature achievement. He explained it in his keynote speech at the Republican convention in 2012, right after he told us about his mom, his dad, his wife, his children and his love of Bruce Springsteen. “They said it was impossible to touch the third rail of politics,” he bragged….

Part of the reform package required significantly higher state contributions to the pension system. But as Collins explains, Christie vetoed new taxes needed to make those contributions, reneged on the state’s commitment, and went about the country boasting of his courage. Now the New Jersey judiciary is saying “no,” and he’s trapped himself.

For the rest of us, the news is that Christie is now about as serious a presidential prospect as Donald Trump. The Republicans certainly aren’t going to nominate him because of his in-depth experience in foreign affairs. And if they just want to pick a governor, they’ll probably lean toward one whose administration has enjoyed fewer than eight credit downgrades.

Sure, there’s Christie’s tough-talking, truth-teller thing. But the idea was that his in-your-face style pushed New Jersey to reform. If there’s no reform, you’d have to presume that the American people are just hungry for a president who will yell at members of the audience during the State of the Union address.

Christie really did build the classic “house of cards,” and it’s all falling down.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.