Chris Christie missed his White House moment

New Jersey governor was seen as a strong candidate in 2012, but has failed to capture the excitement in 2016 race.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie introduces U.S. President Barack Obama from the presidential lectern at Asbury Park in New Jersey
Some Republicans blamed Christie for helping President Obama win re-election in 2012 [EPA]

Four years ago, the Republican Party liked Mitt Romney. He was smart, successful, a former governor and the son of a former presidential candidate.

Yes, the Republican Party liked Mitt Romney, but they didn’t love him.

They thought the White House was there for the taking. They believed, with a little effort and the right candidate, they could make Barack Obama a one-term president.

They didn’t quite commit to Mitt. They hoped that somehow a new candidate would emerge from the sidelines, they’d fall in love and all their dreams would come true.

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Jeb Bush was considered. But he knew it was too soon for another Bush in the White House.

They really liked the governor of New Jersey. Yes, Chris Christie was large and combative, but he generated excitement. I stood in a hall in Iowa just a few days before the 2012 caucuses.

Governor Christie was given the job of introducing Romney, the man he was backing for the nomination. He lit up the hall. His performance was so high wattage, when Mitt took the stage, he looked positively dim. And I heard people say as we left the hall, “Why doesn’t he run?”.

He thought about it. He talked with supporters and moneymen. A few big name backers urged him to get into the race. But whether he thought Obama couldn’t be beaten, or he’d be punished for backing a candidate, then running against him, he stayed out of the race.

Towards the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, Superstorm Sandy hit.

It lashed the US East Coast, and worst hit was New Jersey. Governor Christie performed well. He helped his people. He looked strong and capable and organised. And Republicans loved him all over again.

The Obama hug

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Then the president came to town. Obama flew in to the disaster scene to see the damage for himself. He looked concerned and presidential. Days before an election, the timing was important.

The two men got along well. The president brought federal money and support to the state. And after a long, fraught, emotional few days, the governor thanked the president with the cameras rolling.

The men were pictured walking with their arms around each other’s back, supporting one another.

The myth grew that Christie hugged Obama. And the myth became that the hug sealed the election. Obama looked like a president that could work with opponents, do what was right for the country and care for its people.

But the Republicans did not like that it helped their opponent.

When Christie got into the race, this time around, Republicans remembered a hug. And they remembered a presidential election defeat in 2012.

But Christie worked hard. He decided he would concentrate on New Hampshire, thinking the voters there would like his spirit, his record and his determination.

And he did well there. Not brilliantly, nor well enough to shoot to the top of the polls, but he showed he would be a factor in the race.

He talked about safety and security. He told the voters how he was appointed a US attorney the day before the 9/11 attacks in New York.

He wasn’t. He wasn’t actually appointed until December. But Christie liked the image it gave him. He held town hall meetings all over the state. And people warmed to his bluntness and his straight talking, even if sometimes he was rude and abrupt.

Heading home


He did OK in the debates. He attacked Barack Obama. The friendship of four years ago forgotten. Here was a man who when he won the presidency was going to “kick Obama’s backside” out of the Oval Office.

And he savaged Marco Rubio.

In the aftermath of the debate, he called out the Florida senator for repeating the same tested lines at every event and every debate. It mattered little he did the same. Senator Rubio made it easy by answering with the same rehearsed line, not once, but twice.

But then the people of New Hampshire voted. Marco Rubio was wounded, but the votes he lost didn’t go to Christie.

The New Jersey governor struggled into sixth place. 

And then he went home to reassess his options, knowing that once he was loved by his party. And knowing he has probably missed his moment and any chance of winning the White House.

Source: Al Jazeera