Chris Christie's latest humiliation: Will he even make the cut for GOP debates?

Who will be invited to the GOP primary debates? A new poll offers hints and has some bad news for Chris Christie

Published May 28, 2015 4:52PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
(Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Normally it’s not worth one’s time to pay too much attention to early polling. We’re still months and months away from the first actual voting contest of the 2016 presidential election – plenty of time for a frontrunner to gaffe his or her way out the race, or for a massive economic meltdown, or whatever. But the rapidly expanding field of Republican 2016 candidates – Hi, George Pataki! – has made it necessary for the GOP and the various media outlets hosting primary debates to be a little selective when it comes to who they invite to participate in those events. For a candidate to get into the mix, they have to clear a certain threshold of support in national polls.

As my colleague Jim Newell points out, this has sparked a sad, hilarious fight for attention among the lesser Republican candidates, who are gratuitously lobbing bombs and throwing shade at each other in an effort to build their national profile and clear the bar for debate inclusion. But still we’re left to wonder who will fill out the ranks of the televised debates. We need a starting point to get a sense of who is likely to make the cut, and Quinnipiac’s newest poll is as good a place to begin as any.

According to Quinnipiac, right now there is a five-way tie for first in the GOP primary fight: Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson all take a 10-percent share of the vote. So that’s half the debate roster filled. Occupying the bottom half we have, in descending order of support, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Chris Christie, with John Kasich and Carly Fiorina(!) tied for tenth.

As Ed Kilgore points out, this is a “poll from hell” for the GOP establishment, with crazy man Ben Carson tied for the lead, and oozing publicity sore Donald Trump outpolling several sitting governors. At the same time, numbers like these are great news for candidates like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, who are depending almost exclusively on support from hardcore conservatives – if nothing changes, they won’t have to share a debate stage with other would-be hard-right champions like Rick Santorum or Bobby Jindal. And in a blow for Serious People everywhere, the Lindsey Graham 2016 movement doesn’t appear to have picked up any steam, though Graham’s one percent still puts him ahead of Santorum and Pataki.

But for my money, the really interesting story here is Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor is just barely holding on to a spot in the top ten, drawing a feeble four percent and edging out Kasich and Fiorina, who have received the merest fraction of the presidential buzz that Christie has. What’s even worse for Christie is that his four percent in this survey is a significant drop from the seven percent he pulled down in Quinnipiac’s April poll. That’s consistent with the overall trend in Christie’s national numbers – he’s sunk to five percent from his November 2013 high of 15 percent – and his numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This slide has continued even as Christie has embarked on several high-profile “comebacks” that were supposed to breathe new life into his presidential aspirations. Just yesterday, Team Christie unveiled plans for yet another tour through early primary states, “where Christie’s advisers believe his hawkish fiscal pitch and loquacious style at town-hall meetings could revive his wilting prospects.” I’ve lost track of how many times people close to Christie have promised that the turnaround is nigh.

The debates are crucial to whatever hope Christie has for returning to the limelight, as they’ll be the perfect venue for the Jersey tough guy act that vaulted him to national prominence in the first place. But before he can even get to the debates, Christie has to first stanch the bleeding.

By Simon Maloy

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