To hear Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) tell it, he’s unpopular in part because he got ambitious and, in part, because of where that ambition took him.
How unpopular is Christie? In New Jersey, President Trump has an approval rating twice as high as Christie’s — despite Trump being a historically unpopular president and losing Jersey in the presidential race by 14 percentage points.
Asked about his unpopularity on the “Today” show on Friday, Christie offered the following explanation.
I ran for president. People don’t like when you have a job and you are looking for another one right in front of them. I endorsed Donald Trump, and that was incredibly unpopular in my state as a blue state. And, third, Bridgegate happened. I think the combination of those three things, all three of which had really nothing to do with the execution of my job, impacted people and the way they felt about me.”
In other words, New Jerseyans were mad he ran for higher office and then endorsed Trump (likely with an eye to a role in the administration). Oh, and also because Christie staffers had ordered a traffic backup in a city whose mayor hadn’t endorsed the governor’s reelection in 2013. It was called Bridgegate. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? (Two of those staffers were sentenced to prison earlier this year.)
Put another way, this is a little like Richard Nixon explaining that he resigned because, first, the economy was slow and, second, he wanted to spend more time with his family, and, oh, third, the thing with the hotel.
Quinnipiac University has been polling in New Jersey since before Christie first ran for governor there. The graph below shows his net favorability (before being sworn in) and approval ratings during his time in office. (Net approval means the percentage who approves of Christie minus those who disapprove.) Guess what? The order of the causes that Christie articulated is … slightly off.
We’ve marked four key points: the landfall of Hurricane Sandy (five years ago this week), Bridgegate, Christie’s presidential campaign announcement and his endorsement of Trump.
After Sandy, Christie’s approval rating rose a bit — a function of his response to the disaster and effective partnership with President Barack Obama, which improved how Democrats viewed him. But a year later, after Christie’s reelection, Bridgegate erupted, and the governor’s numbers tanked.
By the time he announced his candidacy for the presidency, the first cause Christie cited to “Today,” his net approval rating overall was already underwater. Among Republicans it had fallen from plus-87 approval before the Bridgegate revelations to plus-46 in the survey closest to his announcement to enter the race. Among Democrats, his rating fell from minus-13 to minus-71.
It is true that Christie’s approval ratings fell farther during the campaign and after he endorsed Trump. In that sense, all three on his list may have played a role. (By November 2015, 61 percent of respondents told Quinnipiac that Christie should drop out of the race and a majority said they didn’t think he could both run for president and serve as governor simultaneously.) But his fate was almost certainly sealed even before his campaign announcement.
Again, Trump is twice as popular as Christie right now, suggesting that a closer alliance with Trump might actually be helpful to the governor. Not that it matters; New Jerseyans are headed to the polls next month to pick Christie’s successor and, after that, he returns to the private sector.
The moral of the story for New Jersey’s next governor? Running for president in 2020 might be ambitious, but it’s much less recommended that your staffers screw up traffic for a week in a town out of a sense of political revenge.