Chris Christie is probably the most unpopular governor in the country, and he seems bent on making sure of it.
The state government has shut down amid a budget dispute in New Jersey, which as we head into the Fourth of July means things like state beaches are regrettably off-limits. Off-limits, it seems, to everyone but the Christie family, which was spotted via aerial photos lounging on an otherwise-empty Island Beach State Park on Sunday.
And not only did Christie choose to head to a beach that other families won't be able to enjoy while the government is shut down, but he also seemed to try to hide this fact from the public Sunday during a news conference.
Here are the brutal few paragraphs from NJ.com:
At [Sunday's] news conference, Christie was asked if he got any sun Sunday.
“I didn't,” he said. “I didn't get any sun today.”
When later told of the photo, Brian Murray, the governor's spokesman, said: “Yes, the governor was on the beach briefly today talking to his wife and family before heading into the office.”
“He did not get any sun,” Murray added. “He had a baseball hat on.”
— Tony Dearing (@TonyDearing) July 2, 2017
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) July 3, 2017
Okay. The first problem with this is that the Christies decided to use the beach at all, which shows a complete tone-deafness on the part of the governor. That would be very bad just by itself.
The second problem is that he pretty clearly denied it. The third is that the final statement from Christie's office shows a blatant disregard for the truth and for Christie's job. (We can see the governor's legs, and they are pretty clearly getting some sun.) He also doesn't seem to be in a particular hurry or engaged in intense conversation, so the idea that he was “briefly” stopping by to talk to the first lady and his family doesn't really hold water.
It's a pretty perfect coda to a Christie political career that is the stuff of Greek tragedies. It's difficult to believe this is a man who was the GOP's great hope just five short years ago. Republicans practically begged him to accept their presidential nomination, as his approval rating was sky-high in a blue state and the party was unhappy with its other choices.
What's most remarkable about all of this is that Christie had bona fide political potential. Just watch those press conferences in which he confronted tough questions from journalists with ease. I've rarely seen a politician who seemed so comfortable in his own skin, so quick-witted and ready for prime time with relatively little experience in elective office.
Ever since 2012, though, Christie's career has basically been in a free fall, characterized by the Bridgegate scandal that has led to the convictions of top aides, by a 2016 campaign in which he was often the least-liked candidate on the debate stage, and then by his odd, often unreciprocated embrace of now-President Trump. Trump at times seemed to be almost trying to humiliate Christie, his former vocal primary opponent. I called it “Chris Christie’s never-ending tour of Donald Trump-related indignities,” which I stand by.
And through it all, New Jersey has turned on Christie in stunning fashion. With about six months to go before he is term-limited out of office, his approval rating is a dismal 15 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll a couple weeks back. That was the worst approval rating Quinnipiac has found for any governor in two decades of polling across a number of states. A strong majority of Republicans — 58 percent — don't even like Christie.
Back in December, I looked and could find only one governor who was ever in worse shape: post-indictment Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). He was later sentenced to 14 years in prison, but not before he bottomed out at 3 percent approval in one poll and 7 percent in another.
We'll see if Christie's best efforts can get himself in the single digits, too. He sure seems to be trying.
Update: In case the Christie administration doesn't understand how big a blunder this was, here is his own lieutenant governor (who happens to be running to replace him) calling what Christie did "beyond words."
It’s beyond words. If I were gov, sure wouldn’t be sitting on beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches https://t.co/VBtBpoUUkv
— Kim Guadagno (@KimGuadagnoNJ) July 3, 2017
Clarification: This post initially said public beaches were closed, but the governor's office sought to emphasize that not ALL public beaches are closed — only those run by the state. Municipal beaches are still open.