Opinion

The real reason Chris Christie won't be the Republican nominee for president

Revisiting the embrace that ended a candidacy before it even began

You're going to have to travel pretty far to find someone who thinks Chris Christie has a genuine shot at becoming the Republican nominee for president in 2016. Outside of his immediate family, you'd have trouble finding too many people in New Jersey who think so, given that his approval rating is hovering around 30 percent. But like anyone else, he has the right to take his case to his party's voters and see what they think, which is what he announced he'd be doing on Tuesday with his official entry into the race. In a field that now looks like it will include 16 candidates, he's actually one of the more serious ones. But the fact that Christie's star within the party has fallen so far tells us a lot about today's GOP.

In advance of his announcement, Christie's campaign released this video, which shows him at his charismatic and eloquent best. It introduces the campaign's slogan, "Telling It Like It Is," on which his persona is built, and apparently on which his campaign will be built. The problem, though, is that while it's great to be straightforward with people, if they don't actually agree with what you have to tell them, they probably won't give you their votes. We all like to think we want someone who'll be straight with us, but that's often the last thing we want.

It seems like a long time ago now, but there was a moment when Chris Christie was the rock star of the Republican Party. Early in his first term, conservatives excitedly traded links to YouTube videos of Christie at town hall meetings, where unlike most politicians, when he got a question he didn't like, he had no compunction about yelling over the questioner or even insulting them. Crucially, the targets of his contempt were people Republicans didn't like — young people, school teachers, and so on. Here, it seemed, was a tough-talking Republican who took no crap from anyone. People immediately began talking about his future presidential campaign; in 2010, Roger Ailes invited Christie for a dinner at his home (along with Rush Limbaugh), where the Fox News chief implored him to run against Barack Obama in 2012.

When Christie's story is written, many will say that it was Bridgegate that brought him down. But if you want to find the moment when Christie's presidential dreams really foundered, look to October of 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore. When Barack Obama came to the state, toured the damage with the governor, and promised the federal government's help, you could almost hear millions of Republicans around the country saying, "Wait a minute — what the hell is he doing palling around with Obama?"

What's worse, Christie didn't hesitate to praise Obama for his response to the storm. "The president has been all over this, and he deserves great credit," he said. "He gave me his number at the White House and told me to call him if I needed anything, and he absolutely means it. It's been very good working with the president and his administration. It's been wonderful." Then there's this photo: Christie and Obama, arm in arm and smiling, two friendly guys trying to solve a problem together.

Christie obviously didn't get the memo: Barack Obama is the enemy, forever and always. He could cure cancer and Republicans wouldn't be able to bring themselves to offer him a word of praise.

Indeed, opposing and even loathing Barack Obama and everything he represents is nothing less than the defining feature of contemporary Republicanism. If Obama embraces a policy, it must not just be rejected but fought with a ferocious energy, even if it began life as a conservative idea (like cap and trade, or what would become ObamaCare). When Obama comes to your state to deliver aid, if you absolutely must take the help, you should treat it like a gigantic socialist turd that he thrust upon you against your will. You have to show Republican voters that you despise him with every fiber of your being.

When Christie failed to do that, he should have learned that telling it like it is is all fine and good when you're yelling at some no-good punk, but it only extends so far. In the proper circumstances, you can make up for ideological lapses and get the Republican nomination (Mitt Romney did, after all). But every candidate, whether they're from the "establishment" or the Tea Party grassroots, must share the same limitless and unflagging abhorrence for Barack Obama. If you don't have that, you can't really call yourself a Republican.

Chris Christie still believes he can win over the Republican primary electorate, which is almost admirable in its optimism. And who knows — anything is possible, and with a field this big, there will be plenty of twists and turns in the race. But if he shows any glimmer of a chance, you can bet his opponents will trot out that photo of him and Obama. And no amount of straight talk will explain that away.

More From...

Picture of Paul WaldmanPaul Waldman
Read All
Did Trump prove Obama wrong about America?
Obama posters and President Trump.
Opinion

Did Trump prove Obama wrong about America?

MS-13 is Republicans' new Willie Horton
Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Opinion

MS-13 is Republicans' new Willie Horton

Jeff Flake's 2020 kamikaze mission
Jeff Flake.
Opinion

Jeff Flake's 2020 kamikaze mission

How Democrats should tackle Trump in the midterms
Nancy Pelosi.
Opinion

How Democrats should tackle Trump in the midterms

Recommended

Cawthorn's anti-abortion comments spark outrage
madison cawthorn
Getting into the Word

Cawthorn's anti-abortion comments spark outrage

Polls close in first Gambian presidential election since dictator's exile
Gambian election
Plonk! goes your vote

Polls close in first Gambian presidential election since dictator's exile

Le Pen, Orban, and other European populist leaders meet in Warsaw
Orban and Le Pen
to the right now, y'all

Le Pen, Orban, and other European populist leaders meet in Warsaw

Democrats' role in the looming loss of abortion rights
A donkey.
Picture of Ryan CooperRyan Cooper

Democrats' role in the looming loss of abortion rights

Most Popular

Late night hosts joke about Trump's secret COVID test
Donald Trump shares COVID with Joe Biden
Last Night on Late Night

Late night hosts joke about Trump's secret COVID test

Meghan Markle handed win in court battle with U.K. tabloid
Meghan Markle
meghan vs. tabloids

Meghan Markle handed win in court battle with U.K. tabloid

Michigan prosecutor may charge Oxford shooter's parents, too
Oxford High School in Michigan
In loco parentis

Michigan prosecutor may charge Oxford shooter's parents, too