From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Chris Christie told voters as often and as forcefully as possible that he -- unlike Marco Rubio, unlike Ted Cruz, unlike Donald Trump, unlike Carly Fiorina and unlike Ben Carson -- was a governor. He knew how to make tough and smart decisions. He knew how to lead. He could get the president's job done. The only problem was that as a governor of a state home to more than a few real workhorse news organizations, Christie's real rather than self-assessed results were also easy to find.
In any other campaign year, Christie's New Jersey baggage -- terrible in-state approval ratings, a state credit rating downgraded nine times during his tenure, drawn-out battles with the legislature and litigation with state pensioners, not to mention all the footage of him berating New Jersey residents at town halls and, of course, Bridge-gate -- might have actually mattered. It all might have been maid plain in some detail on the campaign trail. And, in any other campaign cycle, Christie's brash Jersey-guy thing and some careful repackaging of that baggage as a real Republican's battle wounds might have also put Christie somewhere in range of being a real contender.
But this is not that cycle. Christie's time was 2012, when Republicans who weren't in love with Mitt Romney clamored for a reluctant New Jersey governor to step forward. He decided to wait.
This time around, there were bigger anti-union warriors in the White House race (see Scott Walker). There are brighter, shinier, younger party stars. There are people with more solid governor's resumes. And, for sure, there's someone in the race who is ruder, brasher, bolder and meaner. And his name is Donald Trump.
The truth is that this year, Christie was part of a massively crowded Republican field, and he was unable to grab much in the way of voter or even media attention. He told aides on Wednesday that he would be suspending his campaign, The Washington Post has confirmed.
What follows is a partial timeline of events that, in retrospect, seem to chart a clear path to the end of the Christie campaign and hint at the roots of Christie's political problems.
- In late June, Christie officially declared himself a Republican candidate for the White House. He delivered his Livingstone, N.J., announcement speech flanked by cheering fans and his family while pacing the stage. The point was clear: I'm a tough guy from a tough state with real problems. I've been tested, and I've proven myself capable of managing those challenges. Unfortunately, outside of Christie's charitable read of his track record and current political situation, Christie was a relatively little-known guy in a race already filling up with better-known and better financed candidates. And New Jersey voters were telling pollsters that they really, really did not like him. More than a few told public opinion researchers that Christie did not have the temperament to be president, there was too much of a bully in there. Then, there was the matter of the state's finances, and the fact that the governor's relationship with the legislature had devolved into a long-running suit over pension payments.
- In July, Christie did battle hard enough to secure small polling gains and win a place on the main debate stage. But that same month, Politifact gave a half-true rating to Christie's claim that three independent investigations have concluded that he had no knowledge of the intentional traffic snarl that has become known as, "Bridge-gate."
- By August, something Christie said during that first Republican primary debate was causing a new problem. Christie told viewers that he was "appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, and the world changed enormously the next day, and that happened in my state." The Washington Post's Fact Checker found that Christie made the claim not once, but twice during the debate -- and, the public record didn't exactly support Christie's dramatic appointment timeline. If that wasn't enough, there were those darn troubles at home. When Christie entered the winner's circle to hand over the winner's trophy at Monmouth Park, a horse-racing track that much of the world was watching because a Triple Crown winner participated in the day's races, the crowd booed. Ouch.
- By October, Christie's presidential campaign appeared to be rising, but back home in New Jersey, his approval rating slipped to a new low -- 33 percent -- according to a Rutgers University poll. Christie told Fox News that campaigning in other states had become an exhausting and all-encompassing experience but not one he was planning to abandon any time soon. He'd been forced to step off the campaign trail and focus exclusively on New Jersey for a few days -- or at least long enough to take on a governor's responsibilities when a hurricane is on the way. Later that month, Christie again scored some points during a debate when he reprimanded its moderators for asking a question about fantasy football regulation when the nation faces far more serious problems and pressing issues like ISIS.
- Unfortunately for Christie, by the end of the month, the New York Times editorial board called on Christie to stop chasing his presidential dreams and attend to the urgent and long list of matters in New Jersey. Then, there was that quiet-car incident. For the record, it is against the rules to talk on one's phone or even engage in above library-volume conversations on Amtrak's quiet car. When the governor's loud telephone conversation got him booted, firsthand accounts were all over Twitter. And surprise, surprise, there were lots of reporters on board. Politico claims it was one of several incidents within a 24-hour period that finally and officially sunk his campaign.
- By November, Christie had doubled down on his assertions that the Black Lives Matter movement either targeted or supported the targeting of police. Christie had no proof, and, frankly in the swirl of racially charged things said during the 2016 election cycle, this one hardly registered. But at the very least, it seemed like the desperate act of a desperate candidate who had decided to try to compete for voters flocking to a bombastic reality TV show star who had expressed all sorts of of ideas that have been described as racist, xenophobic and other words not printable here. Then Christie decided to go a step further, joining other Republicans in questioning the wisdom of allowing Syrian refugees into the country. Christie told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would not even allow in orphaned 5-year-olds if he were president.
- As 2015 faded in 2016, Christie once again suggested a raft of more strenuous law-enforcement measures in the wake of the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings. And, something Christie said or did was appealing enough to Republican voters that his poll standings rose high enough to put him back on the main debate stage. It was a small victory. Unfortunately for the Christie campaign, that same month, the National Review published a piece challenging what the headline described as Christie's reliability, but the text came far closer to describing as questions about his honesty and commitment to conservative ideas and major battle fronts. Among other allegedly egregious acts of betrayal for a Republican, Christie had accepted the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, exaggerated his role in counter-terrorism efforts and offered up the most dramatic version of how he came to his antiabortion stance, the National Review reported. This, the piece seemed to scream, is what Christie's real track record consists of. This is his brand of conservatism.
- In January, when a blizzard left behind some storm damage and coastal flooding in New Jersey, Christie almost immediately returned to the presidential campaign trail. More than a few people in New Jersey complained. In response, Christie made one of his perhaps-joking, perhaps-grandstanding tough-guy comments and asked, in public, if people wanted him to grab a mop. He called the complaining mayor "crazy," once again bringing to mind those questions about Christie's temperament. Christie was, after all, the governor whose very own staff sometimes posted on the governor's YouTube channel footage of Christie berating and speaking very bluntly to private citizens at town halls because of the questions they asked or because they tried to challenge him. The whole clean-up dispute did what things often do today, which is developed a second and sarcastic life online. This lead to one of the more hilarious -- for voters, but probably not for Christie -- moments in the Christie campaign. A New Jersey resident set up a GoFundMe account to buy and send many, many mops to the governor's mansion, Politico reported.
- February proved to be the last month of the Christie campaign. The candidate turned in what many described as his strongest debate performance yet, calling out Marco Rubio for relying on talking points and exposing a real crutch in Rubio's political arsenal. In fact, Christie pointed out that Rubio's reliance on a script -- or rather the same piece of script again and again -- was the problem. Christie had, it seemed, taken the Republican Boy Wonder -- the man one magazine called the "Republican savior" -- down more than a notch or two. The problem is, it didn't actually help Christie earn more votes. In Iowa, Christie garnered just 1.8 percent of the vote and picked up zero delegates. In New Hampshire, after the debate, Christie grabbed a bit more of the raw vote: 7.4 percent to be exact. But he only outperformed Republicans Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, two of the outsider-candidate caucus. Fiorina just dropped out. Carson remains the candidate at the center of flagging campaign.