Did Chris Christie peak too soon?

This week, the New Jersey governor’s chances of sitting in the Oval Office seem to be riding a down elevator. What's behind the slide?

Neil Hall/Reuters
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during his visit to the One Nucleus life science company headquarters in Cambridge, England, Monday.

Did Chris Christie peak too soon? That’s certainly possible, in the context of his presidential ambitions. This week, the New Jersey governor’s chances of sitting in the Oval Office seem to be riding a down elevator – and the lit button says “garage.”

Prior to the 2012 vote, many top Republicans all but begged New Jersey Governor Christie to enter the race as an alternative to Mitt Romney. Henry Kissinger summoned him to New York to praise his ability to “connect with people,” for instance. But Christie demurred. He told them all it wasn’t yet it his time. 

Now many of those same establishment types have moved on. Mr. Kissinger is backing Jeb Bush. Big donors are fleeing to Mr. Bush and the ascendant Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, according to detailed stories in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Politico.

The gist of these stories is the same, writes the Post’s political blogger Chris Cillizza today: “Christie is bleeding donors and activists to other candidates – most notably the former governor of Florida – as the perception grows that he is just not as well positioned for the 2016 presidential race as he (and many of them) thought he would be.”

What happened? How does a hot ticket turn into chopped liver so fast?

For one, potential supporters wake up and see the vulnerabilities that have been there all along. Back in 2012, Kissinger et al were looking for someone, anyone, with charisma and force and the letter “R” at the end of their official title. Today they recognize Christie’s past record of moderation on key issues such as abortion and immigration for what it is: a barrier to winning the nomination.

Just look at the numbers from a January Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa poll: 58 percent of Republicans in that key early caucus state labeled Christie “too moderate” to win their vote. Only 34 percent saw him as “just right” in his ideology, putting him dead last in the field of 16 candidates, behind Donald Trump.

Second, there are choices. Jeb Bush is pushing hard to cram himself into the role of establishment favorite. Scott Walker is suddenly sitting in the “viable governor” slot. Marco Rubio is rising. And so on.

Finally, he’s got enemies, or at least adversaries. They’re actively working to push him out. They want to make sure he loses the so-called “invisible primary” contest for support of key donors and other party actors.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that The Washington Post and The New York Times and Politico all had stories running down Christie’s chances within days of one another? If so, we’ve got an exclusive deal to sell you a section of the Garden State Parkway. Somebody big shopped that story around, making sure that all those publications knew that Christie was losing his hold on past donors such as New York Jets owner Woody Johnson.

The Bush team is a likely suspect. We still believe Bush aides leaked word of his January summit with Romney as way of pressuring the 2012 nominee to stay out of the race.

Then there’s the Kean family. Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean Sr. seems to be quietly enjoying Christie’s problems. In 2013, Christie tried to engineer the ouster of state Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. as minority leader. His father helped him beat back the attempt. Perhaps now it’s time for revenge. 

“Kean family at center of Christie’s NJ troubles” tweets WaPo reporter Robert Costa, who is well-connected in Republican circles.

Of course it’s early. Christie can still come back – that’s what campaigns are for. 

But it’s not just the invisible primary that he should be worried about. Actual primaries might be a problem, too. Look at this graph of the 2016 GOP race from Huffpost Pollster. It shows Christie peaking in November 2013, when he led the Republican field with 15 percent of the national vote. Since then, he’s been on a slow and steady slide. Today he’s fifth, the choice of 6.3 percent of primary voters.

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