By easily winning re-election last fall in deep blue New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) emerged as the most serious threat to Democrats keeping the White House in 2016. It's no surprise, then, that Democrats have watched his bridge scandal unfold with barely restrained glee.
But there's another group that is delighted to see Christie sweat in the glare of the national spotlight: Far-right conservatives.
Indeed, many conservative members of the media have been more than willing to kick Christie while he's down.
— Glenn Beck (@glennbeck) January 9, 2014
The Christie episode today shows that non-conservative Republicans, like Democrats, are prone to improper use of the power of government
— Matthew Boyle (@mboyle1) January 8, 2014
GOP Establishment sure can pick 'em! #Christie
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) January 9, 2014
Am I terrible person if I want to get out of the way and let the liberal media destroy Chris Christie 2016 for me?
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) January 8, 2014
Back in 2010, when anti-ObamaCare sentiment in the GOP was at its feverish peak, Christie was a conservative hero. He fulminated loudly against the Obama administration, and yelled at teachers and pretty much anyone who contradicted him, becoming the very embodiment of red-faced conservative rage.
The love affair was short-lived.
Beneath his tough guy veneer, Christie always supported tougher gun laws and had a penchant for the dreaded "B" word, bipartisanship. He's since backed off opposing same-sex marriage, accepted ObamaCare's expansion of Medicaid, and signed a bill granting the children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates.
But his real break from conservatives — his Judas moment — came when he literally embraced President Obama and played carnival games with him after Hurricane Sandy, an offense some on the right believe kept Mitt Romney from the White House.
And that's the big rub for conservatives: They don't think Christie truly has their backs.
In an October Quinnipiac survey, only one-third of conservatives said they had a favorable opinion of Christie, while one-quarter said the opposite. And in a hypothetical GOP primary, Christie picked up only two percent of Tea Party support.
Then there's the gripe that Christie is just another politics-as-usual candidate who exemplifies the arrogance of establishment politicians, an image reaffirmed by the bridge scandal. Red State's Erick Erickson writes that "[Christie] and his staff operate as divas," relating horror stories from other GOP lawmakers, including one who says that Christie treats his peers "as if they are low-level staffers there to serve as Chris Christie's advance team."
"This was always going to be Christie's problem," he adds. "People want a winner. And they want an a**hole. But they want the person to be their a**hole, not an a**hole who tries to make everyone else his whipping boy."
Christie has long-struggled to bridge the gap between himself and skeptical conservatives. This scandal has given us a useful preview of the kinds of attacks he'll face if he runs in 2016.