It’s Time to Find Out How Republicans Really Feel About Chris Christie

Conservative media is divided on covering the Christie scandal, and that’s not surprising.

National Journal
Matt Berman
Jan. 9, 2014, 5:48 a.m.

Go to The Drudge Re­port on Thursday morn­ing and you’ll find something you might not have ex­pec­ted: a massive spread on a GOP scan­dal, with one of the morn­ing’s least-flat­ter­ing news­pa­per cov­ers.

(Drudge Re­port)

The thing is, this isn’t ac­tu­ally that un­usu­al, as people who’ve been keep­ing an eye on the Matt Drudge-Chris Christie re­la­tion­ship know. Back in Novem­ber, when Christie won a second term as gov­ernor of New Jer­sey, Drudge tweeted that, along with the de Bla­sio and McAul­iffe vic­tor­ies, Christie’s win was part of a “Re­pub­lic­an’s night­mare.” “Hug a con­ser­vat­ive today,” Drudge wrote.

The view from Fox News has, so far at least, been quite dif­fer­ent. Fox was nearly si­lent on the Christie ad­min­is­tra­tion’s un­furl­ing bridge scan­dal for most of Wed­nes­day, in­stead fo­cus­ing on the Bob Gates mem­oir. Rush Limbaugh ex­pli­citly lamen­ted Wed­nes­day that the me­dia was push­ing aside the Gates story to fo­cus on Christie, al­though Limbaugh did get a dig in at the gov­ernor.

And this be­ha­vi­or makes com­plete, in­tu­it­ive sense for Fox, too. Fox News Chair­man Ro­ger Ailes, after all, re­portedly tried to per­suade Christie to jump in­to the pres­id­en­tial race in 2012.

The Re­pub­lic­an Party as a whole, like con­ser­vat­ive me­dia, has a com­plic­ated re­la­tion­ship with Christie. While re­cent polls have Christie at least in the top of the pack for Re­pub­lic­an 2016 con­tenders, when you ac­tu­ally dig in­to the fa­vor­ab­il­ity num­bers, the pic­ture gets much hazi­er.

A June Gal­lup Poll found that Christie’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity among Re­pub­lic­ans, at 53 per­cent, was be­hind Paul Ry­an (69 per­cent), Marco Ru­bio (58 per­cent), and Rand Paul (56 per­cent). But the most telling stat­ist­ic was the num­ber of Re­pub­lic­ans that have an un­fa­vor­able opin­ion of Christie — at 25 per­cent, nearly double the un­fa­vor­ab­il­ity num­ber of any oth­er Re­pub­lic­an that Gal­lup polled for.

More re­cently, a Decem­ber Quin­nipi­ac poll, while it did find that Christie does have a slight edge against oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans over­all, also un­covered some big fa­vor­ab­il­ity splits. In the poll, 55 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans had a fa­vor­able opin­ion of Christie, while 22 per­cent held an un­fa­vor­able opin­ion. Com­pare that to the un­fa­vor­ab­il­ity of someone like Scott Walk­er or Bobby Jin­dal (3 per­cent each), or Rand Paul or Paul Ry­an (6 per­cent each).

A lot of that could be due to more people say­ing that they know enough about Christie to have an opin­ion of him. But it’s strik­ing that his fa­vor­ab­il­ity num­bers among Re­pub­lic­ans ac­tu­ally don’t dif­fer so greatly from his num­bers among Demo­crats. That’s al­ways been the strongest pro-Christie ar­gu­ment for 2016: Demo­crats have his­tor­ic­ally felt pretty OK about him (with a 43 per­cent fa­vor­ab­il­ity in the Quin­nipi­ac poll, com­pared with 8 per­cent fa­vor­ab­il­ity for Paul Ry­an).

This scan­dal doesn’t mean, as The At­lantic‘s Dav­id Gra­ham writes, that Christie’s bright fu­ture is be­hind him. But for his already siz­able de­tract­ors, it’s a great jump­ing-off point. As the New York Daily News‘ Thursday ed­it­or­i­al put it, the best case scen­ario for Christie here is that he was ob­li­vi­ous to “thug­gish” be­ha­vi­or from his staff, be­ha­vi­or that in this case delayed re­spon­ders to four med­ic­al emer­gen­cies. That’s go­ing to be tough for the gov­ernor to come back from, and as has already been the case, he can’t ex­pect con­ser­vat­ive me­dia to rally around him in­def­in­itely.

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