When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie visited Florida shortly after the revelation that his staffers had caused a traffic disaster for political retribution, no Republican would be seen in public with the RGA chairman. Last week, the same happened in Texas, and this week, Illinois Republicans will steer clear of Christie’s events.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the four gubernatorial candidates competing in Illinois have no plans to join Christie at various Republican Governors Association events. Christie will be landing in Chicago on Tuesday to attend a number of fundraisers, but he will not be greeted by Republican gubernatorial candidates, and the Democratic National Committee is planning a press conference attempting to link Illinois Republicans to the New Jersey bridge scandal.
The only candidate of the four Republicans running to not outright deny they are attending any events with Christie is Bruce Rauner, whose spokesman told the Sun-Times that his schedule for the week was not “completely finalized.” The head of the Illinois Republican Party is reportedly attending the one event open to the press at the Economic Club of Chicago, but he is avoiding any other “RGA stuff.”
The chilly welcome in the Windy City is yet another entry in a pattern of behavior by national Republicans, who seem to want anything but a photo op with the embattled governor. Shortly after the extensive press conference in which Christie initially denied knowing anything about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, Christie visited Florida to attend a fundraiser for Rick Scott. While Scott’s team told Breitbart News that they were “grateful” that Christie could visit Florida for the trip, no public images or statements from the events surfaced.
Several weeks later in Texas, Christie attended private events that neither the current Republican governor of the state nor the Republican gubernatorial candidate stopped by to meet with the RGA chairman. Governor Rick Perry noted that he was elsewhere in the state and could not attend the event in Dallas for which Christie had come to Texas, while gubernatorial candidate and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s spokespeople stated that the candidate already had an immigration event planned in Houston that he could not cancel to meet with Christie.
In the weeks following the scandal–particularly the weekend Christie’s state hosted the Super Bowl–reports surfaced that Christie is struggling to maintain a hold on his public image while his office attempts to comply with subpoenas from everyone from the New Jersey Legislature to the federal government. Politico quoted sources who observed that those who have seen him at private events note that Christie appears more like the governor of New Jersey than a 2016 presidential hopeful, and many seem to question whether two years will be sufficient for Christie to rehabilitate his image.
The pattern of rejection as Christie attempts to exert influence on the party nationwide also calls into question his powerful position as the head of the RGA, one which many–from former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to New Jersey’s Star-Ledger editorial board–have called on him to relinquish while he resolves problems at home.
The image of the Republican Party suffers when candidates who need the backing of the national organization established to get them elected openly shun its leader for fear of being tainted with the accusations flying around him. The story is no longer about whether Christie knew of the bridge lane closings before they occurred, but of what his presence and such an appearance of impropriety can do to damage Republicans during the 2014 midterms. Illinois Republicans now join Texans and Floridians in tacitly suggesting Christie’s presence does more harm than good.