OPINION | How Chris Christie went from America's straight shooter to Trump's crooked yes man
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How does one of the most popular and widely respected political figures of an era morph into a political Humpty Dumpty?  

New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie managed to succeed at this — splendidly. He is now the least popular governor in the nation, according to a national poll of governors released by the research group Morning Consult, while his good friend, Governor Larry Hogan (R-Md.), is ranked No. 2.  Christie used to be one of the most popular.

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Embracing President Obama (literally — an actual bromance hug) during his visit to hurricane-ravaged New Jersey in the wake of Sandy in 2012 may have earned the ire of some right-wing partisans, but it was hardly damaging to his poll numbers.  Representing the raw emotion of his constituents as they sifted through the debris that had been their homes and their lives after the devastating storm served to further humanize the already popular governor.

Christie was the good guy, straight shooter, tough, and one of us. Until he wasn’t. Until he became just another crooked politician and opportunist.  

Governor Christie’s staff and allies took the heat for engineering lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September of 2013 as payback to a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse the governor.  But the voters never fully bought the claim that Christie knew nothing about the scheme. It was the crack in the veneer of him whom they believed to be a solid, upright player.

Not surprisingly, while decent Americans were appalled at the sleaziness of Bridgegate, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MORE and some close to him loved it.  Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner expressed his admiration in an email to the Port Authority Official who masterminded it, David Wildstein.  “For what it’s worth, I thought the move you pulled was kind of badass,” wrote Kushner, according to the New York Times.  Trump himself was joined at the hip with Christie after the New Jersey governor dropped out of the 2016 GOP presidential primary and endorsed him. Christie’s honest tough guy image was replaced with that of a weak, bought-and-paid-for yes man, especially after Trump lost New Jersey to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill MORE.

Christie could have politically survived Bridgegate if he was otherwise consistently solid.  But his devotion to Trump served to reinforce the Bridgegate stain.

Bridgegate took its political toll (pun intended) but the fatal blow for Christie in the eyes of voters was his sycophantic, seemingly inexplicable embrace of Trump.  The guy who everyone liked for going against the grain when toeing the party line would be easier was openly and cravenly doing all he could to get in the good graces of Trump as a means to an ambitious personal and political end.  And, but for Paul Manafort, he would have scored.

President-elect Trump had named Chris Christie head of his transition team. Trump even asked Christie to be his vice-presidential running mate, according to reports.  But Paul Manafort, his then campaign chairman, had other ideas. While in Indiana campaigning, Manafort lied to Trump and told him they would be delayed because of a mechanical problem with Trump’s airplane.  Manafort then brought in Indiana Governor Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSome WH aides anxious over Russia probe despite reassurances from Trump lawyer: report Paul Krugman unwittingly fulfills fiscal fantasies for Republicans Ex-Pence aide on Rosie: She promised to leave US if Trump won and she's still here MORE while he made his case.  Apparently, it wasn’t much of a challenge. Christie was out. Pence was in. Christie was also out as transition chair, courtesy of Jared Kushner.  The humiliation was near complete. There would also be no role for Christie in Trump’s cabinet.

Voters who know a politician is sleazy and unethical and continue to support him or her are not surprised when that politician proves him or herself to be sleazy and unethical. But when one who is widely admired for being honest, ethical and strong turns out not to be, there is price to pay.

In contrast to Christie, who campaigned vigorously for Larry Hogan in Maryland at a time when Christie’s help meant something and could pack a wallop, Hogan has been consistent in his style, strong ethics and independence.

For all of Christie’s groveling, eagerness to please, and willingness to humiliate himself repeatedly for Trump, he not only lost the respect of voters, but walked away with nothing but a goose egg. Hogan never endorsed Donald Trump, and in fact, publicly stated that he would not vote for him, despite his nomination.  

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has the second highest approval rating for a governor in the country. According to Morning Consult, Hogan’s super-majority approval rating is second only to the governor of Massachusetts, despite the two-to-one majority Democrats enjoy in Maryland.  Christie, on the other hand, is the most unpopular governor in the country with a my-God-that-has-to-be-a-typo inducing 69 percent disapproval rating.  He won in 2013 with more than 60 percent, pre-Bridgegate revelations and pre-Trump.  

But it gets even worse. Christie had the poor, take-what-he-pleases judgment to sunbathe on a New Jersey beach over July 4th weekend this year. The only problem is that the beach was closed to the public because Christie shut down the government, and thus state-run tourist destinations, to retaliate against the state legislature.  

After photos exposed Christie and his family on a beach closed to the rest of the state, a Monmouth poll showed whopping 80 percent disapproval rating, a historic low point for the state. So the Morning Consult poll is actually an improvement, if you can believe it.

In stunning contrast, 68 percent of registered voters polled in the deep blue state of Maryland approve of Hogan’s performance as governor. In the early months of his administration, Hogan faced a daunting challenge as race riots raged in the streets of Baltimore.  He took control, angering the mayor. He then went into the affected neighborhoods, talked the residents, listened to them and established rapport. Hogan’s poll numbers were strong prior, during and since.

While Hogan and Christie became close friends during Hogan’s run for office and Hogan hosted him at the Maryland Preakness, they were miles apart when it came to Trump, who lost to Hillary Clinton in Maryland as he did in New Jersey.

If the Baltimore riots were Hogan’s great test of strength and leadership in the vein that Hurricane Sandy was similarly a test for Christie, and both men were already enjoying impressive support from voters, it’s clear the latter’s failed self-serving support of Trump was inconsistent with who voters thought he was, and more consistent with what he seemed to be in the context of Bridgegate, despite his claims of innocence.

Rigor mortis has set in with Chris Christie’s political career.  To quote my friend and fellow Never Trumper, Rick Wilson, “everything Trump touches, dies.”

Cheri Jacobus is a former congressional staffer, RNC spokesperson and political consultant. Follow her on Twitter @CheriJacobus.


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