Chris Christie is running for president. The question now is if he’s four years too late.
The bombastic New Jersey governor shot to national prominence on his bravado and force of personality after his 2009 election. He quickly took on the unions there and touted his ability, as a Republican, to get things done in a Democratic-controlled state.
By 2011, many of the nation’s leading GOP financiers were trying to recruit him to run against Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination. Christie took a pass then. On Tuesday, he entered the 2016 presidential sweepstakes in the high school gym of his hometown of Livingston, New Jersey, in a far less favorable position.
Christie presented himself as a Washington outsider, saying that both parties have “failed” there.
“Americans are filled with anxiety. They are filled with anxiety because they look to Washington, D.C., and they see a government that not only doesn’t work anymore, it doesn’t even talk to each other anymore,” he said Tuesday. “It doesn’t even pretend to work. We have a president in the Oval Office who ignores the Congress and a Congress that ignores the president.”
That’s not where Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton belongs, he said.
“After seven years of a weak and feckless foreign policy run by Barack Obama, we better not turn it over to his second mate, Hillary Clinton.”
That’s where Christie comes in.
“We need strength and decision-making and authority back in the Oval Office, and that is why today I am proud to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for president of the United States of America,” he said.
Many of the GOP moneymen who once urged Christie to run are lining up behind his rivals, most notably former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Once viewed as an early 2016 front-runner, Christie’s national ambitions have been snarled in a traffic and political-payback scandal of his administration’s own making, one that has seen one ally already plead guilty and two former aides facing indictment.
Along the way, Christie has become a polarizing figure, even among Republicans. More than half of GOP voters, in a March Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, said they couldn’t see themselves backing Christie. It was the highest figure among GOP politicians in the poll.
Christie’s path has narrowed dramatically from the national primary campaign his team had once hoped to run. Christie has courted Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad for years and made national contacts as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
But as he launches his campaign, Christie’s 2016 hopes hinge mostly on New Hampshire, where he has already begun a series of town-hall-style meetings that his advisers believe could reinvigorate his candidacy. Quick-witted and with an uncanny ability to connect with small audiences, Christie’s team believes New Hampshire can slingshot him back atop the field, much as it did for John McCain, who barnstormed the state in the 2000 and 2008 primaries in a bus he labeled the “Straight Talk Express.” Christie’s campaign slogan is “Telling It Like It Is.”
“If we are going to lead, we have to stop worrying about being loved and start worrying about being respected again both at home and around the world,” Christie said Tuesday. “I am not running for president of the United States as a surrogate for the elected prom king of America. I am not looking to be the most popular guy who looks in your eyes every day and says what you want to hear and turn around and do something else.”
Christie said his honest style will be immediately on display on the campaign trail.
“When I’m asked a question, I will give the answer to the question asked, not the answer my political consultants told me to give backstage,” he said. “A campaign that, every day, will not worry about whether or not it’s popular, but because it’s right. What is right will fix America, not what is popular.”
To bolster this straight-talking image, Christie is putting an overhaul of Social Security and Medicare front and center in his campaign, announcing his details to hike the retirement age this spring. He did so in New Hampshire, where he will return hours after his New Jersey kickoff. Christie will stay in the state through the July 4th holiday.
Christie’s struggles back in New Jersey, though, threaten his comeback attempt. While Christie himself was not directly implicated in the traffic-causing scandal, the case—and the questions it has raised about the culture he created in his administration—continues to follow him. The state’s economic recovery has trailed its neighboring states, and the state has seen numerous credit downgrades under Christie’s watch. His New Jersey approval ratings have sunk to new lows.
In a pair of symbolic blows, one of Christie’s former closest allies in the New Jersey Legislature, Sen. Joe Kyrillos, who chaired Christie’s first campaign for governor, has lined up behind Bush. And Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets (who play in New Jersey) and a past Christie supporter, has signed on as Bush’s finance chairman.