No phenomenon in politics is more simultaneously amusing and bathetic as the spectacle of a presidential candidate who has clearly blown his or her chance but cannot seem to hear the cues to move off the stage. That’s where New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appears to be right now, as evidenced by an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly (suddenly a terrifying figure to GOP presidential candidates!) wherein he tried to spin a disastrous New Jersey poll into some sort of veiled expression of home-state support.
I devoted my TPMCafe column this week to a careful accounting of exactly how poorly Christie is doing in the Invisible Primary, and to various theories as why he’s in such deep denial, ranging from the need to keep a trickle of contributions coming in to the committees supporting him, to a decision to adopt the perennial role of the Doomed But Brave Truth-Teller. I don’t know exactly where the truth lays, but it’s fun, if a bit ghoulish, to speculate.
Now I’m sure some people will read my piece, or just read the headline, and object that Christie cannot by definition have failed because we’re still many months away from actual votes being cast. Just as there are those who categorically want to ignore early polls, there are those who reject the very concept of an Invisible Primary that shapes and often winnows the field. I doubt there’s anything I can say to persuade them, but the reality is that Chris Christie has had an extended audition with GOP activists going back to the talk of drafting him in 2012, and for a variety of reasons, he’s flunked that audition. He’s mis-positioned on a number of issues; his personal bully-boy shtick has gotten old (just as Rudy Giuliani’s did in the 2008 cycle); ethics questions surround him; and his latest gambit, making himself the candidate of Maximum Entitlement Reform, seems designed to win him admiring op-eds rather than votes. Above all, his proto-candidacy was about electability–his two election victories in a very blue state–and his plunging approval ratings back home have blown that up pretty convincingly (take heed, Scott Walker, take heed!).
In any event, it’s a free country, and Christie’s entitled to go ahead with a formal announcement and an actual campaign if he wishes, though he’s doomed to spend most of his time fending off questions like Kelly’s, and trying not to notice his staffers polishing their resumes.