At the beginning of August, in the lead up to the Fox News Republican presidential primary debate, there was some legitimate speculation over whether Chris Christie would make the cut for the main-stage event. Only the top ten candidates in the polling averages would be invited to participate in the primetime debate, and the New Jersey governor – who once held a commanding lead in national polls – was averaging about three percent and was in danger of being bumped. He ended up squeaking by, taking the ninth-place spot just ahead of John Kasich, who’d knocked Rick Perry out of the top ten.
At the time, the debates were seen as critical for Christie. He needed something to reverse the steady erosion of his poll numbers, and a nationally televised debate offered the opportunity for Christie to do his much-celebrated Jersey tough guy routine in front of a huge audience. His target of choice turned out to be Rand Paul, whom Christie lambasted for threatening our national security through his opposition to the Patriot Act. It was vintage Christie – bullying, bloviating, steeped in machismo – and pundits agreed that he’d put in a solid performance.
So, after months of false starts and failed predictions, had it finally happened? Was the Christie Comeback finally happening?
Nope. Since early August, Christie’s numbers have, improbably, gotten worse. He’s dropped from three percent nationally to 1.7 percent, putting him in the same stratum as dead-end candidates Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal. He’s barely registering in Iowa, his numbers in New Hampshire are atrocious, and he’s an afterthought in South Carolina.
That brings us to this week’s GOP debate, which Christie was lucky to participate in, given the worsening of his numbers and the rise of Carly Fiorina, who bumped him from the top ten. Once again, Christie deployed his “shut up and sit down” act, lecturing Donald Trump and Fiorina for arguing over who was more successful in business. And, once again, pundits agreed that Christie put in a winning performance. “All of us around the table are saying you had a great night,” said Joe Scarborough to Christie the morning after the debate.
This led to "Morning Joe" panelist Willie Geist positing that perhaps now, maybe, after all this time, the Christie Comeback is nigh. “You’ve sort of patently stayed below the radar as Donald Trump has dominated all the coverage,” Geist said to Christie, using an amazingly upbeat euphemism for Christie’s utter lack of support. “Take us inside your campaign, behind the curtain. What’s the strategy now? Are you prepared now to sort of blow up into that Trump/Carson/Fiorina/Kasich category?”
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Christie said, trusting that no one would point out that that strategy has produced zero success.
So might the Christie Comeback actually be in the offing? It doesn’t seem likely, but at this point there isn’t really anywhere for Christie to go but up, so we might be looking at the Christie Dead Cat Bounce. Right now the best thing Christie has going for him is the determined refusal of pundits and other election observers to treat him as they would any other candidate who has shown no ability to connect with primary voters. They remain convinced that Christie is a legitimate contender for the nomination, his uninterrupted decline into also-ran territory notwithstanding. It doesn’t matter how bad Christie’s numbers get, because the Christie Comeback is always just over the horizon.