Chris Christie flatlines: Is Donald Trump stealing whatever remained of his mojo?

The onetime frontrunner is officially the most disliked candidate in the Republican race

By Jim Newell

Published July 1, 2015 4:00PM (EDT)

Chris Christie         (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
Chris Christie (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

We hate to break it to Chris Christie just after he got into the race, but he's descending rapidly towards the zero-bound for presidential politics. Meanwhile, his chief rival for the "screeching Northeastern clown person lane," Donald Trump, is breaking certain rules of presidential primary physics and crowding out the great party savior of two years ago.

To use and rough heuristic approach to Republican primaries: there are Iowa candidates, and there are New Hampshire candidates. This largely hinges on your appeal to social conservatives, who make up a significant portion of the Iowa Republican electorate but substantially less of the New Hampshire Republican electorate. Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee: these are Iowa candidates. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie: These are New Hampshire candidates. It is not surprising, in the wake of the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision, that Cruz, Walker, and Huckabee have been the most vocal about pursuing an unachievable constitutional amendment limiting same-sex marriage rights, while Bush, Rubio, and Christie have expressed disappointment with the decision but are urging conservatives to accept it and work to protect religious freedoms.

In late 2014/early 2015, Christie seemed to think that he could make some sort of move in Iowa. As chair of the Republican Governors Association during the 2014 election cycle, he paid an exorbitant amount of attention to Iowa governor-for-life Terry Branstad, one of the least-endangered Republican gubernatorial candidates in the country. Here is Christie at Branstad's "annual birthday bash" in late October, 2014 -- a fairly critical point in election season! He vetoed, at Branstad and Big Ag's urging, a heavily bipartisan bill in New Jersey that would have banned keeping pigs in gestation crates. (Only God-fearing Iowans who make a lot of money of off pigs understand that those pigs like to be crammed into small death cages.) He questioned mandatory vaccinations, kissed up to Iowa Rep. Steve King, and declared himself the most pro-life pro-lifer who's ever pro-lifed.

How did that Iowa push work out for him? Consider these figures from the latest Quinnipiac poll of Iowa. Let's be generous and ignore the 1 percent that Christie earns in the poll and look at the fundamentals, i.e., his room to grow. Is there a certain negative spread on this list that stands out? (Hint: It's the one that I've put in bold and italics and is about Chris Christie because he's the subject of this column.)

Favorability ratings for other Republican candidates are:

  • 53 - 31 percent for Paul;
  • Negative 42 - 47 percent for Trump;
  • 46 - 42 percent for Bush;
  • 63 - 7 percent for Carson;
  • 58 - 19 percent for Cruz;
  • 60 - 13 percent for Rubio;
  • 61 - 28 percent for Huckabee
  • Negative 25 - 59 percent for Christie.

We'd usually call a 25-59 unfavorable "Trump-level bad," but as you can see, it's considerably worse than Donald Trump's underwater favorables.

Is Christie making it up in New Hamsphire? No! He's stuck in mid-lower single-digits in polls, and his favorability spread is the worst there, too. The most recent CNN poll of the state had Christie at 31-44 unfavorable, with Trump at 38-48 unfavorable.

Typically if you're the among the most despised candidates in the race, this won't reflect well in your overall polling numbers. For now this is not the case with Donald Trump. Trump is polling in second place fairly consistently across the board: in Iowa, New Hampshire, nationally, Michigan, wherever! Which is hilarious and we're so glad that it's happening, obvs.

What's going on? PPP's Tom Jensen, in his write-up of the Michigan poll, explains that "Trump is in the top tier despite having an underwater favorability rating at 41/44. What he has going for him is that much more so than for most of the rest of the field, the people who do like him also say he's their first choice for the nomination."

So... how do we put this?... there are some people out there. Not many of them. But some, and they believe Donald Trump is an honest broker. And if you believe what Donald Trump says, then you're obviously going to support him. What Donald Trump says is that he's the single greatest author, businessman, and human to ever walk the earth, and everyone else is a stupid loser fraud. If you believe that, bless you, then you're going to be loyal to Trump. (It is also possible that the people who support Donald Trump are the racist contingent, as they were during Trump's brief window of flirtation in 2011.)

Northeastern screamers don't get too far in the South-centric national Republican party. But there is a faction of the party that's receptive to that sort of -- to use the generous terms that these candidates would self-apply -- "tell it like it is," "authentic" Tri-state bluntness. Atop all of Christie's other problems, Trump is so far successfully positioning himself to suck up that limited space. Christie has suffered so many embarrassments since his apex in 2013, but this has to top them all.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Elections Chris Christie Donald Trump Editor's Picks Iowa New Hampshire Polls