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April 25, 2014 5:26 PM Damning Christie With Faint Praise

By Ed Kilgore

The estimable and data-savvy conservative political analyst Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics enjoys myth-busting, like most of us who have to write regularly about the CW. So it’s no surprise he’s published a piece questioning whether Chris Christie is as crispy-toasty a national political commodity as we’ve been led to believe thanks to the Big Man’s recent troubles.

Trende puts in a good effort, but sure looks to me like he’s damning Christie with faint praise. One of his arguments for claiming that the New Jerseyite hasn’t been that badly damaged by Bridegate is that he wasn’t really running that strongly in national presidential polls to begin with. Okay. Trende also notes most of his loss of popularity—in New Jersey and nationally—was of non-Republicans who were going to leave his camp eventually anyway. Unfortunately, much of Christie’s appeal to conservative Republicans was almost certainly attributable to an “electability” argument; many pragmatic GOPers are willing to trade some ideological coin for a heightened likelihood of general election success. If he’s losing the latter, the former may soon start mattering a lot more.

And that leads us to Trende’s final argument for the proposition that Bridgegate isn’t a fatal problem for Christie: he’s got some other problems:

At the end of the day, “Bridgegate” is a bad fact for Christie. It will certainly feature in 30-second ads. It also effectively sucks up all of the governor’s “free time,” freezing his campaign in place and preventing him from laying the sort of groundwork that Rand Paul and Jeb Bush are putting in place.
But these are really just two of many problems, ranging from his relative liberalism on some key issues to his weight to his “Jersey” demeanor, which really will matter somewhat in the Midwest.

I’d personally say “his relative liberalism on some key issues” understates that particular set of problems. He supports both the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and the Common Core Standards education initiative, which are almost certain to be two of the hottest of hot buttons for conservative caucus and primary voters in 2016. He’s also said heretical things about guns, and has mocked Islamophobes. There’s really not much appealing about Christie to “base” voters other than his presumed electability (which again, has by all accounts taken a hit), and his union-baiting skills, which won’t look quite so special when he’s competing with Scott Walker.

Color me unconvinced.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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