Chris Christie and New Hampshire: 10 Things That Went Wrong

Matt Katz | February 10, 2016 | Katz on Christie

In the end, the Jersey street fighter got knocked out in the match he needed to win. Gov. Chris Christie finished in sixth place in the New Hampshire primary, which spells the end of his presidential campaign. Here’s what went wrong.

Bridgegate: It didn’t come up too often on the campaign trail, but Bridgegate changed the trajectory of Christie’s political career. Billionaire donors abandoned him, fearing he was too scandal plagued, and he endured months of horrendous media coverage that gave voters a bad taste about his political style. Most of all, for a guy who rose to political prominence as a corruption-busting truth-teller, the scandal was anti-brand, damaging his image beyond repair.

He went right when Kasich went down the middle: As he sought to attract conservative voters, Christie loosened his position on gun control, ratcheted up talk about World War III and called for a ban on Syrian orphans from entering the United States. Meanwhile, Kasich appealed to the independent and Democratic voters who can participate in the state’s GOP primary by stressing a softer, bipartisan message. Christie has had bipartisan accomplishments in New Jersey, but that wasn’t the impression that New Hampshire voters got.

Donald Trump: The primary winner did more damage to Christie than perhaps any other candidate. Here was another Northeasterner who said outrageous things. Those voters who valued candidates who tell it like it is went to Trump. But Trump hurt Christie in a second way — anti-Trump voters lumped them together, and just discounted Christie as another substance-free loud-mouth. Trump was therefore doubly destructive for Christie. And for whatever reason, Christie never really attacked him.

Bully Image: They knew him well, these New Hampshire voters. He had been coming up for years, stumping for Republicans, and his most bombastic moments were regularly on the national news and passed along via YouTube from friends and relatives in New Jersey. Two weeks ago, that image was cemented in the mind of some voters when he was asked why he had returned to New Hampshire to campaign even though parts of the Jersey Shore were suffering from flooding after a major snowstorm. “What do you want me to do, bring a mop?” he quipped, quite aggressively.

Nine credit downgrades: There were other areas to criticize Christie about regarding his tenure in New Jersey. But these three words stood for all the rest. The state’s downgrades were mentioned most often by his opponents, and by TV commentators, as a shorthand for his allegedly poor economic stewardship of the state.

The “hug”: Christie never hugged President Obama after Superstorm Sandy. But some conservatives, spurred on by conservative commentators, thought he did. Not only that, they believe that hug helped Obama win reelection. Some never forgave him for the hug that wasn’t.

Iowa: After a positive news story a spate of endorsements from prominent Iowans in January, Christie expanded his New Hampshire-only strategy and sought to be a player in that state’s caucus. Not only did Christie finish in ninth place, almost at the bottom of the field, but he lost valuable time when he could’ve been campaigning in New Hampshire. That’s what Kasich did — he had New Hampshire to himself while others were campaigning in Iowa, and he finished in second place. 

Rubio Super PAC Ads: Talk of a Christie comeback in New Hampshire surfaced in December, when the governor began to surge in the polls. But a pro-Rubio super PAC unleashed its millions in television advertising on Christie to call into question his conservative credentials. That seemed to stop the comeback dead. 

Return Fire May Also Have Been Friendly Fire: Christie didn’t really attack like he knows how to attack until last Saturday night, when he knocked out Rubio at the debate. That was apparently a murder-suicide, because while Rubio’s reputation was gravely damaged, Christie didn’t help himself. He also faced a backlash from conservative talk radio, with Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin blasting him for unfairly going after Rubio.

Ground game: According to Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray, only 17 percent of likely Republican voters got a phone call or door-to-door visit from Christie canvassers. Five other candidates beat him on this front. All of them finished ahead of him in the final tally.