It’s only Tuesday, but Chris Christie has found a way to fill up this week’s few hours with a month’s worth of bad headlines.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Christie was primed for a big week. When Mitt Romney announced last Friday that he won’t pursue a third run for president, he unleashed his donor base, setting off a race largely between Christie and Jeb Bush for donors’ cash and support. The New Jersey governor got an immediate victory on that front by bagging the support Friday of Bobbie Kilberg, an influential Northern Virginia executive who had helped raise millions for Romney’s campaigns. Christie then left for the United Kingdom last weekend, working to burnish his international credentials ahead of a probable presidential campaign. He even squeezed in an Arsenal match on Sunday.
Then, of course, came a question from a reporter in England that managed to completely shift the news cycle. When the governor was asked whether he would urge Americans to vaccinate their children, Christie responded by suggesting that there should be a “balance” between parental choice and vaccination laws. “Parents need to have some measure of choice in things,” he said. The remarks set off an immediate, prolonged outcry, putting Christie on the defensive and resulting in an eventual clarification from his office. Perhaps most uncomfortable for Christie, the aftermath included vetting of comments he made in 2009 while running for governor on his “real concern” about vaccine mandates in his state.
And that’s not all. Tuesday wasn’t much friendlier to Christie, when The New York Times reported on his expensive tastes and questionable ethics. The report included details about a 2012 trade mission to Israel for the Christie family on mega-donor Sheldon Adelson’s private plane (at the time, Adelson was pushing Christie to kill legislation the governor ultimately signed), followed by a weekend vacation paid for by the king of Jordan, which wound up including a Champagne reception in the desert. Christie, characteristically blunt in his defense of the expenses, said that he wants to “squeeze all the juice out of the orange.”
Predictably, this has all led Christie to not feel particularly warm toward the media at the moment:
A string of bad press isn’t good for Christie right now. Everybody has bad weeks. That’s particularly true for people in the ultra-public domain of presidential politics. A bad week doesn’t preclude political success. And as Christie has shown recently, a bad couple of months don’t necessarily preclude that, either, despite plenty of punditry that inevitably suggests otherwise.
But this bad week is especially poorly timed for Christie. Instead of fighting Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio or Gov. Scott Walker over Romney donors from his perch in England, Christie is being forced to defend vaccine comments that a big majority of his party disagrees with.
Ray Washburne, the finance director for Christie’s PAC, told NBC after Romney dropped out of the 2016 race last week that he’s been reaching out to Romney’s former backers to build up support for Christie. And unnamed sources tell NBC that donors inevitably bring up the Bridgegate scandal and need to be assured by Washburne that the governor has moved on from it untainted. This past week could create only more concerns for donors. Even if what’s happened is just a matter of poorly managed optics, they can still add to the impression that Christie is too often a loose cannon.
We may largely forget about what Christie said about vaccines by the time the presidential campaign is under way in earnest. But such bad press during the political equivalent of television’s sweeps week is a potentially big blow to the momentum Christie was starting to build this year.