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
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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) 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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