In the early days of the 2016 campaign, The Donald has risen to the top of several GOP presidential polls by employing a style and a tone quite similar to Christie’s. These same tactics once helped the New Jersey governor earn high approval ratings and land on the cover of several national magazines. They also might have helped him become a top contender for national office in 2012.
As governor, Christie has called a U.S. Senator a partisan hack, a state assemblywoman a jerk, an openly gay legislator numbnuts, and a former Navy Seal an idiot. He once told reporters to “take the bat out on” a 76-year old state Senator and grandmother who was critical of his administration.
Today, it is Trump stirring the pot by characterizing Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and by claiming John McCain was not a war hero. He makes statements that are controversial and often viewed as outrageous. But they garner media attention, and they resonate with angry and frustrated voters.
Trump (his comments on McCain aside) tends to sound a populist tone, touching on issues that hit home for voters. Likewise, some of Christie’s most-viewed YouTube videos feature him ranting against journalists, government workers and other popular targets.
This is a big reason why Christie was basking in popularity and gaining national recognition when the field for the 2012 election was forming. Since none of the Republican presidential candidates was generating widespread excitement, it is conceivable that an individual with Christie’s personality and charisma (and a record of winning in a blue state) could have captured the nomination.
But Christie missed this window of opportunity, and it may not open again in 2016.
For the more than 18 months, he has been dogged by allegations that he was involved with a decision to block traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., as political payback to the city’s mayor, who failed to endorse his 2013 gubernatorial re-election bid.
To add to his woes, many powerful Republicans still are furious that Christie welcomed President Barack Obama with open arms when he visited New Jersey to check on damage from Hurricane Sandy just a few days before the 2012 presidential election.
Christie also bears the bruises that come with serving as a chief executive for a number of years. He now is the face of a state whose credit rating has been downgraded a record nine times since he took office. New Jersey also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and mass transit fares and highway tolls have risen under Christie’s watch.
While Christie must defend and explain his record as New Jersey governor, Trump can campaign unburdened by the responsibility that comes with serving in elected office. In fact, he can use his private sector status to run as an outsider who criticizes Washington and its career politicians.
Had Christie run in 2012, he would still have been on an extended honeymoon with New Jersey voters and could have blamed the state’s problems on his predecessors. Now he is the owner of New Jersey’s problems, and he faces a much tougher challenge in convincing voters he is an outsider.
Whether Christie would have won the 2012 GOP nomination had he thrown his hat into the ring is debatable. It also is impossible to predict if Trump, in the current campaign cycle, will pull off what Christie did not do in 2012.
What we do know is that there is a window of opportunity for The Donald in 2016 – and he is not likely to let his chance pass by.