Chris Christie’s 2016 Dreams Washing Away

AP Photo/Mel Evans
AP Photo/Mel Evans

A new poll from left-leaning Public Policy Polling captured a burst of enthusiasm for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz following the formal announcement of his campaign for the GOP Presidential nomination. In just one month, Cruz’s support among all Republicans shot up from 5 percent to 16 percent, essentially tied with Jeb Bush and just a handful of points behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Lost amid the headlines of Cruz’s rapid assent, though, is the quickly diminishing presidential hopes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Once considered a presumptive frontrunner for the GOP nomination, in the latest poll Christie is stuck at the back of the pack with just 4 percent support.

That in itself isn’t particularly remarkable at this early stage in the nominating contest. Christie is an aggressive campaigner and has strong ties with deep-pocketed potential donors. An active presidential campaign would ordinarily boost the low support he currently earns in the polls.

This latest PPP poll, however, reveals an existential problem for Christie’s presidential ambitions. Republican voters already know him, and generally dislike him.

A solid 57 percent of Republican voters have an unfavorable view of Chris Christie. Less than a quarter of GOP voters have a favorable view. There is no other potential GOP candidate with numbers even close to these. Even Jeb Bush, who has widely reported weaknesses with conservative voters, has net-positive favorables with Republican voters.

Christie’s problems are especially bad, because the opinions of him seem to be set. Just 19 percent of Republican voters have no opinion of him. Only Ted Cruz has a smaller number of Republicans who haven’t yet formed an opinion about a potential candidate.

Christie would need to convince a large number of Republicans to change their opinion of him. That is an incredibly difficult task in politics.

Christie’s early appeal for Republicans was based on his aggressive honesty with entrenched special interests and their bloated budget demands. He talked forcefully, before many others, about the debilitating impact of outsized pension and benefit demands of public sector unions. That talk has largely dissipated with no real change in New Jersey.

Christie’s next major appearance on the national stage was his embrace and fawning praise of President Obama late in the 2012 campaign. His behavior just days before the presidential election was driven by his very parochial drive to extract as many federal dollars as possible to meet the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. To many Republicans, however, his behavior was just short of political treason.

It is still very early in the GOP nominating contest. The PPP poll shows the field falling into four distinct camps. Jeb Bush is in a category by himself, the choice of many in the GOP establishment and liberal and moderate Republican voters. Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Scott Walker are, at this stage, battling among the most conservative slice of the GOP electorate. Carson’s voters are most likely to split between Cruz and Walker if the charismatic doctor’s campaign fades.

Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry have their strongest appeal among conservative-leaning Republicans. Their favorable and unfavorables occupy a similar band of voters in the cross-tabs.

Then there are the “also-rans,” who haven’t yet actively campaigned and are an unknown quantity with most of the electorate. Some of these, like Mike Huckabee, will likely emerge as serious candidates as the field settles more clearly.

Perhaps, as this poll suggest, there is a fifth category of GOP nominee, one that is also occupied by one candidate. Republican voters simply don’t like Chris Christie. The long dark nightmare of America’ fascination with the Jersey Shore may finally be coming to its end.