Monday’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll was just the latest nail in the coffin of Chris Christie’s 2016 presidential hopes. Fifty-seven percent of Republican voters said they could not see themselves supporting him in the GOP primary. The only candidate more disliked was Donald Trump. Between the dislike of GOP voters and the souring of GOP donors, it has been a long fall for the New Jersey governor, once thought by many in the media to be the Republicans’ 2016 front-runner. As his chances have tumbled, observers have blamed his terrible fiscal record, the coverage of “Bridge-gate” or even his rudeness to donors. But the real reason for Christie’s stumble from the start is the same reason the media never should have made him a favorite in the first place: the ever-more-purist GOP base simply hates his record.
The signs that Christie would have trouble with many Republican primary voters were there for all to see and/or Google. In the course of his career, Christie has managed to offend GOP base voters on an almost impressively wide array of issues. He signed a New Jersey version of the DREAM Act and has stated in the past that “being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime.” He said climate change is happening. (Yes, he has dragged his feet on an actual plan to fight climate change, but as Jon Huntsman’s 2012 experience showed, even admitting climate change is enough to turn off Republican primary voters.) And when Islamophobes on the far right feared that a Muslim judge he appointed would impose sharia law, he said “it’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”
And then there’s gun control: Christie’s first campaign in 1995 included fliers calling opponents of an assault weapon ban “crazy.” He opposes “concealed carry” laws. And just this year, his administration proposed stricter regulations on gun dealers. Such is the National Rifle Association’s dislike for Christie that in August 2012, right when Mitt Romney was considering his vice presidential pick, the NRA’s then-president David Keene wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times pleading with Romney not to pick Christie.
Remember, it took only one apostasy to sink Rick Perry in 2012. Perry surged into the GOP lead until he said critics of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants “don’t have a heart.” After that, he never led again. What made people believe a far worse record in the eyes of the GOP base wouldn’t kill Christie’s chances?
That Christie didn’t even make it to 2016 without stumbling suggests the conservative base will only be more powerful this election cycle. So what does this mean for the remaining contenders? Well, as the NBC/Journal poll suggests, even though Jeb Bush is the new establishment standard bearer, he faces serious obstacles with a large portion of the GOP base for similar conservative apostasies. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will have to tread carefully as well, given his past troubles with the right on immigration. If you’re Scott Walker, though, you have to be feeling pretty good.