The number of Republicans who think New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a “strong future” in the Republican Party has dropped significantly in the wake of allegations members of his staff ordered lane closures leading to the George Washington Bridge as political payback…

A new Fox News national poll finds that the number of self-identified Republicans who believe Christie has a strong future in their party has dropped 22 percentage points since December 2012. Sixty-three percent of Republicans felt Christie had a strong future a year ago, while 41 percent feel that way now…

Among independents, he’s dropped from 52 percent to 32 percent now thinking his future’s bright in the GOP.

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Therein lies the cost to Christie in the stories emerging when they have. Christie’s head start is now lost in a fog of investigations and careful answers that figure to consume at least the first half of this year.

Others will lay claim to the Christie mantle of no-nonsense problem-solvers from outside of Washington; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who hopes to win his own big re-election this fall, springs to mind, and more than a few Republicans are talking up former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush all over again…

The key to Christie’s appeal — what makes Christie potentially different than any of a dozen Republicans with eyes on the big prize — is his proven ability to appeal to the nonideological middle.

That is gone, at least for now. Independent voters who just a month ago broke 47-32 for Christie in a hypothetical match-up against Hillary Clinton are now splitting just about evenly, 41 percent for Clinton to 40 percent for Christie, in the new poll.

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In a subsequent conversation I had Monday, the same Christie aide told me that after delivering the State of the State address, Christie privately addressed his cabinet and senior staff, vowing to meet the challenge ahead of them, and expressing his gratitude and love — yes, love — for his team.

“No one’s looking to jump ship,” the aide told me. “We’re all on the same team. We believe in this guy. We will defend him to the end.”

I’m not suggesting that the absence of such sabotage within Christie’s inner sanctum is proof alone of his innocence. It could mean he engenders a rare kind of devotion. It could mean he’s surrounded by sycophants.

But in today’s rough-and-tumble world of political payback (especially potent, we’re told in New Jersey), it’s notable how little payback is coming out of Christie’s office.

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On CNN last night, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli suggested that Christie quit as head of the Republican Governors Association. It was easy, perhaps, to write that off as the bitterness of a defeated candidate, one for whom Christie never found time to campaign in his close 2013 race.

But yesterday, when I was talking to Republicans, I heard the same concern, totally independent of personal affinities. Katon Dawson, the former South Carolina GOP chairman, wondered whether Christie’s problems could trickle down to governors or candidates. That would be unacceptable.

“To most folks in my profession, it’s governorships we pay attention to,” said Dawson. “This all has the potential to affect the RGA and governor’s races if it grows any more legs, like it has with the Hoboken mayor. Mark Sanford is a guy who resigned and didn’t want any of his scandal embroiled around the RGA. Now, nobody’s called for that from Christie. But if we’ve got two, three more scandals, that’s the concern I’ve got.”

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The big problem for Christie, on the other hand, is that the scandals driving his brutal media coverage—most famously Bridge-gate, but also his alleged attempt to withhold Sandy relief funds from the city of Hoboken unless the mayor backed a project for a powerful developer, to say nothing of a series of older scandals, like ostentatiously abusing his expense account as a U.S. attorney, funneling fat federal contracts to key backers, etc.—all cut in the wrong direction ideologically. They sound like a Tea Partier’s nightmare of big government. As much as conservatives might have a soft spot for victims of the liberal media, once the dust clears, it’s hard to imagine them feeling very sympathetic to a candidate who’s been attacked for a litany of sins that aren’t just morally suspect in their eyes, but ideologically damning. As it happens, Giuliani’s own media-bashing officially jumped the shark when he deployed it during a scandal that was similarly off-message ideologically—a Politico report that he’d billed New York City taxpayers for tens of thousands of dollars of security expenses that he ran up while visiting his mistress…

As Chait has pointed out, Christie’s only path to the nomination is to persuade GOP elders he’s the most electable candidate, then hope they have the juice to deliver for him. That electability case has obviously taken a hit of late, but it’s still his best hope, as his generally centrist inaugural speech suggests he understands. Unfortunately, in order to make a plausible electability case, Christie’s going to have to prove he can still get his message out through the mainstream media. And that’s not something you accomplish by starting a blood feud with the people who made you.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell were the first victors in the Tea Party wave, riding fresh conservative enthusiasm–and outrage over Obamacare–to victory in November 2009. The left, predictably, is trying to link Christie’s bullying scandal and McDonnell’s corruption indictment to that Tea Party support. The truth, however, is that they dumped their Tea Party principles and supporters long ago.

There were several minor scuffles between these governors and the conservative grass roots, including a fight over some of Christie’s judicial appointments, and McDonnell’s tax hikes. Yet the major falling-out occurred over Obamacare–specifically, the decision of these two governors (among others) to renege on their promises not to expand Medicaid in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (and its generous federal handouts)…

No political party or faction is immune from corruption or abuses of power. The high ideals of the Tea Party are no guarantee that loyal conservatives will be any more honest than other politicians (though their commitment to small government would give them fewer opportunities for plunder and retribution). Regardless, McDonnell and Christie are no stain on the Tea Party. In fact, their isolation from the movement is to the Tea Party’s credit.

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“I think this whole thing is helping Christie with precisely the people who were most skeptical of him, at least in terms of Republican primary voters,” suggested former New Hampshire GOP chairman Fergus Cullen. “Last month, Scott Brown headlined a fundraiser for the New Hampshire GOP and Brown got picketed by a large group of gun activists. They and other conservative activists would give Christie a hard time because of his ideology, too. But if the media is going after him this hard on something so peripheral to Christie himself, he can’t be all bad, right?”…

One problem with this: Sanford never really irritated GOP primary voters the way Christie did when he praised President Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy. Limbaugh called it “the fatal blow” to a possible national campaign for the New Jersey governor. The few Mitt Romney donors who’ve gone on the record against Christie have cited the Sandy “embrace” as the reason. Media bashing can help sell Christie to conservative voters, but they have so many reasons to distrust him.

“I don’t think it will be possible for the man that almost singularly ensured Obummer’s re-election to generate conservative sympathy via shared media disdain,” said Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace. “Most of the conservatives I talk to in Red State America view the GOP establishment and the liberal media as one in the same—united against us. Now, I certainly think there’s a lot of conservative enthusiasm for putting Christie and the liberal media together on the same raft for a simultaneous Viking funeral.”

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Via the Daily Rushbo.