Chris Christie's Presidential Campaign is D.O.A.

Postby rebeccaolsen » Mon May 04, 2015 6:37 am

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/us/politics/Christies-Camp-Mobilizes-to-Salvage-White-House-Hopes.html?_r=0

Around 7:30 a.m., as an audience of technology executives started streaming through the ballroom doors of a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in suburban Virginia on Friday, Chris Christie’s iPhone buzzed with the grim news he has awaited for 16 months.

Federal charges were coming in the bizarre case of traffic and revenge with which he had become synonymous.

Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, consulted with advisers, adjusted his jet-black suit and gamely walked onto a stage before 300 guests eating yogurt parfait and almond croissants. He recited statistics about Social Security and Medicare costs and projected the air of a man thoroughly unbothered by the swirling legal drama back in New Jersey, which he left unmentioned.

But behind the scenes, his aides, his allies and even his wife were mobilizing, working the phones and blasting out memos to supporters, trying to hold on to whatever chance Mr. Christie had to make a run at the presidency, according to interviews.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was in Virginia on Friday. He has repeatedly said he did not know about the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.With Bridge Case Charges, a Cloud Descends on Christie’s White House HopesMAY 1, 2015
On Friday, Bridget Anne Kelly, who has proclaimed her innocence, suggested that sarcastic comments she made amid the George Washington Bridge lane closings had been taken too seriously.U.S. Indictment Details Plotting in New Jersey Bridge ScandalMAY 1, 2015
David Wildstein, right, leaving the federal courthouse in Newark on Friday after his guilty plea. 2 Indicted in George Washington Bridge Case; Ally of Christie Pleads GuiltyMAY 1, 2015
Gov. Chris Christie interactive A Timeline for the George Washington Bridge ScandalFEB. 3, 2014
Over the next few hours, Mary Pat Christie called donors, trying to offer reassurance that everything was still on track and encouraging them to read her husband’s speech on overhauling the federal entitlement system.

Mr. Christie himself, joined by top aides, reached out to longtime financial supporters, like the billionaires Kenneth Langone and Stanley Druckenmiller, to talk through what he saw as the limited scope of the indictment.

And Mr. Christie’s political action committee emailed talking points for loyal backers to deliver to the news media, framing the guilty plea of David Wildstein, a former Christie ally, and the indictment of the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and his appointee, Bill Baroni, as a moment of vindication.

“Key messages,” the talking points read. “Today’s announcement reinforces what the governor has said since Day 1.” Mr. Christie, they said, “had no knowledge or involvement in the planning, motivation, authorization or execution of the decision to realign lanes on the George Washington Bridge.”

In call after call, they squeezed whatever optimism they could from an ugly day, calling the legal charges the “best possible outcome in a bad situation.”

David WildsteinEditorial: Governor Christie’s PeopleMAY 1, 2015
But amid the bustle, there was an absorption of a new reality for the governor and those closest to him: that his bid for the White House seems increasingly far-fetched. A political team long characterized by its self-assuredness now sounds strikingly subdued, sobered and, realistic about his odds.

In two dozen interviews over the past 24 hours, many of the most trusted allies and advisers to Mr. Christie acknowledged that winning the Republican nomination required a domino-like series of stumbles from his rivals and an unlikely breakthrough for him.

They used gentle descriptions like “in a different place” to describe how Mr. Christie had fallen from the high of his re-election in 2013: unpopular at home, limping near the bottom in national Republican polls and lacking the money and momentum of his competitors.

These people spoke on the condition of anonymity, to treat a delicate situation with a level of candor frowned upon in politics.

Instead of crowing about fund-raising records (as Jeb Bush is) or traveling the country as an announced candidate (as Senator Marco Rubio is), Mr. Christie’s team is in a sense starting over now, hoping that the developments in the legal case represent a new chance at a campaign unburdened by the threat of direct legal action against the governor.

Ray Washburne, who oversees fund-raising for Mr. Christie’s political action committee, said there was a sense of relief from potential donors after Friday “that there wasn’t anything else out there” that would directly implicate the governor.

But even those who expressed fewer doubts described a Christie campaign unlike what they had once envisioned — burdened by well-known baggage, focused largely on winning a single state, New Hampshire, and taking its inspiration from the resurrection of Senator John McCain in 2008.

There are crucial differences, however, between Mr. McCain’s experience in New Hampshire and Mr. Christie’s situation today. Mr. McCain had already cultivated a base of support from his landslide win there in the 2000 presidential primary. Mr. McCain benefited from a timely issue that he had championed — the surge of American forces into Iraq — that was thrust into the debate as he was mounting his comeback. And, finally, in 2008, there were no flush “super PACs” to keep campaigns alive in New Hampshire, as there will be in 2016.

What’s more, the indictment against Mr. Christie’s onetime associates means months of split-screen television images, with one half showing Mr. Christie out campaigning, the other, the latest report on the legal proceedings of his allies.

Mr. Christie has tried to remain outwardly upbeat. But signs of frustration have been spilling out. Over a month ago, according to two people familiar with the exchange, Mr. Christie spotted Tim McDonough, an aide to Woody Johnson, the New York Jets owner, during a trip to MetLife Stadium. Mr. Christie told Mr. McDonough that Mr. Johnson, who had supported him as governor but was planning to back Jeb Bush in the presidential race, had shown his “true colors.” Asked about the exchange, an aide to Mr. Christie said his boss had moved on.

His aides say they anticipate he will announce his presidential candidacy in late May or June, but some in the Republican establishment wonder if he will ultimately run.

Even before Friday’s news, Mr. Christie seemed to be facing cemented opposition within his own party. A March Wall Street Journal/NBC poll revealed that 57 percent of Republican primary voters said they could not see themselves supporting him, the highest number among potential candidates except Donald Trump. Mr. Christie’s campaign aides have declined to say how much money he has raised so far this year; unlike many of his rivals, he appears to lack a prominent wealthy donor prepared, at this point, to sustain a campaign with a multimillion-dollar contribution.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
Influential party figures have started to publicly write him off. After Friday’s indictment, Alex Castellanos, who advised Mitt Romney in 2008, summed up the views of Mr. Christie’s detractors: “Now we’ve learned that his political style is contagious. He infected his own government with it.”

But for Mr. Christie, who reluctantly passed up the chance to run for president in 2012, a campaign for the White House may be an irresistible proposition.

Next week, he will head to New Hampshire for a two-day visit, where he is likely to face skeptical questions about the indictment.

Joseph McQuaid, publisher of The Union Leader newspaper in Manchester and a longtime conservative kingmaker in New Hampshire, said the state “offers a gregarious guy like him a chance to overcome the current perception, but it’s a tough climb.”

The indictment against Christie associates “just reinforces the public perception of a Christie credibility gap,” he said.

Mr. McQuaid recalled meeting Mr. Christie and asking him what he learned from the lane closings. He was taken aback by the reply — that Mr. Christie had learned to be less trusting.

“The guy was a U.S. attorney and he trusts people?” he said.
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