New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie is a likely Republican front-runner for president in 2016. New information reveals, however, that the governor will have an even tougher time mobilizing the conservative base of the Republican Party than previously expected.
A recent YouGov poll found that Christie is more popular among liberals than conservatives. The poll also shows that more liberals (43%) have a favorable opinion of Christie than unfavorable (41%). On the contrary, a majority of conservatives have an unfavorable opinion of the him.
These numbers could prove troublesome for the governor's future prospects, as he is already a controversial character among the Republican Party.
In November 2012, Christie drew harsh criticism from Republicans for his embrace of President Obama during the Hurricane Sandy response right before the election. And just last spring, Christie was deliberately snubbed from the Conservative Political Action Conference speaking list. This summer, he angered Republicans even more by hurting their chances at the vacant New Jersey Senate seat.
Recently, he has been involved in a back-and-forth with popular Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a likely presidential candidate who is especially popular among young people. Christie's strategy in criticizing Paul's libertarian viewpoints was "dumb," says conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru. "Republican politicians frequently disagree with libertarians on issues, but a broad-brush attack will understandably anger them."
A recent Rasmussen poll shows Christie leading the Republican presidential nomination, but includes the disclaimer that, "Even more GOP voters say he’s the candidate they least want to see nominated."
Christie does deserve some credit. As the Republican governor of a staunchly Democratic state, he is forced to compromise and stay far enough to the left to avoid a primary challenge. So far, he has been able to balance his obligations effectively, earning remarkably high support among New Jersey residents. It's also worth noting that Christie will have no trouble getting reelected as New Jersey governor — he leads his opponent by almost 30 points.
His high approval ratings, however, were likely exaggerated. Working with Obama, Christie generated high positive attention after his response to Hurricane Sandy. Since then, his approval ratings have fallen significantly, though they are still among the highest for governors. But one can only imagine how the governor could be attacked in a Republican presidential primary. It will be difficult for him to defend his liberal stances on gun control and Medicaid expansion.
In his book Collision 2012, Washington Post reporter Dan Balz describes the immense potential for fundraising Christie could have, as evidenced by a high level 2010 meeting with power brokers encouraging him to run against Obama. Allegedly, Christie also entertained the idea of becoming the vice presidential nominee on the Romney ticket.
Christie's biggest advantage may be his ability to connect with the average voter, a problem that cost Romney the election in 2012. "Christie has one thing that no other candidate — not Marco Rubio, not Jeb Bush, not Rand Paul, not Scott Walker — who is thinking about running for the GOP nod in 2016 does: An ability to talk like a normal person," says Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza.
As speculation swirls for the next presidential race, Christie will continue to be a strong candidate, as long as he can overcome the perception that he is too liberal for the Republican Party.