Who saw this coming?
The plan for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was pretty clear on Saturday night. Go into the debate and “punch Marco Rubio in the face” until he cried uncle. After his surprising finish in Iowa, Christie knew that he needed to put the brakes on Marcomentum or he would be packing his bags after today and heading back to the Garden State, facing what would almost undoubtedly be the end of his career in public service. The presumed goal in the long game was that as Rubio sagged, Christie would be the one to benefit and fill the vacuum.
But the latest polls going into the First in the Nation Primary seem to be showing something else entirely. If Rubio is held back from a second place finish, it may actually be one of the other governors who reaps the benefits. (Chicago Tribune)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, now in the single digits in New Hampshire, had nothing to lose on Saturday night by going into attack mode against Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. But in overdoing it, and more important, overlooking his real objective, he may have only helped Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who had strong nights without making themselves seem overbearing. Sure, Bush had been baiting Rubio all week with slurs on his readiness and preparation, but in the face-to-face moment Bush barely touched Rubio and instead fired at Donald Trump, especially on eminent domain. Kasich did not have to lay a finger on anyone; he simply nailed down his message as an upbeat, competent governor.
Christie’s problem is not Rubio, at least not now. Rather, it is that he trails two other governors in a race in which he must beat both to continue the argument of his candidacy. Does he pass Bush, who had the best debate of his campaign and who leads Christie by almost 4 points in the RealClearPolitics averages? Maybe, but not likely. Does he pass Kasich, who leads Christie by 7 points in the RCP averages? That’s more unlikely, although possible.
It’s an interesting theory, and I can’t deny that the final tracking polls would seem to support it. The final CNN/WMUR poll has Kasich at 10, Bush at 7 and Christie bringing up the rear with 4. If you prefer the somewhat crazier Emerson poll that AP highlighted last night, the numbers for Jeb and John are much higher, but they still leave Christie trailing in single digits.
The question I have is… why didn’t it work? If Christie truly did dent Rubio (which we won’t know until tonight) then where’s the love for the guy who was actually in the ring with him? The linked article is quick to blame it on Christie being “too overbearing” while the other governors were able to sit back and watch the bloodbath. But if the voters don’t care for overbearing, then how do you explain the 800 lb. gorilla who remains steadily in a double digit lead? (See Trump, Donald) Let’s face it, when it comes to The Donald’s demeanor on the campaign trail, “overbearing” probably only applies on a slow day when he hasn’t gotten enough sleep.
Personally I think that Trump has thrown a monkey wrench in the polling this year and the fact that so many of these surveys are still turning up results all over the map seems to back that up. But if those final two surveys wind up holding any water at all, I’ll at least agree with one premise of the Trib’s article: both Kasich and Bush should send Chris Christie a big bouquet of roses if they live to move on to South Carolina and beyond. For that matter, Trump should probably buy Chris a new car, because the more establishment candidates we keep in the race past Super Tuesday, the smoother his glide path to Cleveland is looking.