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.
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.