Shaking hands from coast to coast.

Chris Christie Still Won't Be President

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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It seems a trip to Iowa can turn the world upside down. The New York Times reported this week that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's admirers suggest his "personality" and gift for gab can propel him back into the presidential game.

The Christian Science Monitor takes that newly inflated ball and runs:

Indeed, despite all Christie's troubles, voters are warming again to his tell-it-like-it-is political style, and his political team is poised to start showcasing it again.

“I think he’s back,” says Matt Hale, professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. “Not all the way, but I think Chris Christie certainly turned the corner on the whole setback with Bridge-gate.”

Perhaps Professor Hale has his finger on the prosecutorial pulse of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in Newark, whose investigation into Christie's George Washington Bridge fiasco is sufficiently live that he recently asked the New Jersey Legislature not to call select witnesses until he is finished with them.

And perhaps the stories detailing how Christie brazenly exploited the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as a patronage mill and "a bank to be used when Mr. Christie sought to avoid raising taxes" were mercifully excluded from the front pages of newspapers in Iowa, where Christie visits today.

But the governor of New Jersey is not going to win the 2016 Republican primary, and he is not going to be elected president. The man got himself in a heap of trouble last year. And absolutely nothing has altered his precarious circumstances.

If you need a reminder of Phase I of his downfall, here's the Bergen Record, reporting back in January:

The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta -- a notion that Christie has publicly denied.

Christie's "personality" might well be an asset in Iowa, arguably the only place in a U.S. presidential race where "retail politics" isn't an oxymoron. (Although Christie's personality also has enormous downside.) Trouble is, even if Christie's personality floats, his character and record will be an anchor dragging him down.

Rivals facing Christie won't need much in the way of opposition research. Google contains more negative information about the governor than they can fully deploy. His budget problems persist. Details of Christie's legally dubious, politically motivated use of Port Authority personnel and funds could fill several 30-second ads. According to numerous reports, the Securities and Exchange Commission has joined the Manhattan district attorney's office in investigating a Christie diversion of Port Authority funds to a New Jersey bridge and roadway. That's in addition to the U.S. attorney's continuing investigation into Bridgegate.

Once the Port Authority worms left the can, Christie's presidential hopes were effectively extinguished. His New Jersey enemies have been emboldened to talk -- and know precisely whom to reach out to. News reporters have ample fodder for investigations of their own. And Christie's style is sufficiently fast and loose -- and the allegations about his administration sufficiently detailed and extensive -- that he will be permanently stained even if no criminal charges result from the various inquiries.

Maybe if this were 2012, when the Republican presidential field alternated between low comedy and gothic horror, Christie's presence in the field would be necessary. But Senator Marco Rubio of Florida or Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, each of whom has had his own brush with scandal, can probably do pretty well with the voters and donors Christie would otherwise appeal to. (Walker would first have to win reelection this November.) Ditto for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush if he chooses to enter the field. Republicans don't need Christie. If he runs, I doubt he'll last long.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net
Stacey Shick at sshick@bloomberg.net