The Biggest Republican Loser of 2016
With the final chapter of 2016 slowly closing, it is clear that Republicans have many things to celebrate: Retaking the White House, and by transition, the courts - only after retaking the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, all the while retaking over 1,000 state legislature seats and rising to over 30 of the governorships nationwide, over the course of those same years. Republicans are at their largest majority in the entire country, top to bottom, sea to shining sea, since the Civil War.
However, we must acknowledge the small handful of Republicans who still, somehow, managed to lose it all. There are some obvious names that come with the small handful of Republican losses on November 8 - namely, Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Some may also point to Jeb Bush, who just might go down in history as the biggest failure of the Bush Dynasty.
But even beyond these, I feel that the biggest loser in the GOP after 2016 isn’t someone who lost an actual election. It’s someone with an (up to this point) stellar electoral record in a surprisingly blue state (more impressive than the purple state Ayotte lost, or Kirk’s measly one term in the deep-blue state of Illinois), who had many chances at a bright and shining future in the party (unlike Jeb, whom I’m convinced had no future - he would have lost resoundingly in 2016, and he had zero chance of any other office the moment he lost the nomination).
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Fresh off his shocking election in 2009, and his landslide reelection in 2013 in the immediate aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss, Christie was one of two individuals that everyone initially turned their attention to as a potential savior of the Republican Party - the other being Florida Senator Marco Rubio. After all, if Christie was able to win so well in a deep-blue, East Coast state like New Jersey, turn around the economy there as he did, and be viewed as a top contender for President in 2016 for so long, he obviously was doing something right, right?
He was...for a while.
Christie’s undoing is a combination of his own faults and horrible timing. Obviously, the “Bridgegate” scandal hurt him the most. Although Christie initially sailed through, claiming to be unaware of what his top aides were doing when they arranged the closure of the Fort Lee lane of the George Washington Bridge, the stigma still stuck and never quite left him. This made it all too easy for other candidates - like Jeb Bush and John Kasich - to take up the establishment mantle that Christie laid claim to. This ultimately led to him coming in a humiliating sixth place in New Hampshire.
The other major factor - the one far out of Christie’s control - that killed his chances was the explosive arrival onto the scene of Donald Trump. Besides his broad establishment appeal and success in a blue state, Christie’s other major selling points were his status as an outsider from Washington, as well as his bluntness/political incorrectness/“telling it like it is.” Obviously, Trump magnified both of those things by 10 or so - far outdoing Christie’s political incorrectness and blunt talk, while also obviously being more of an outsider than anyone else in the field - and thus taking away those last few remaining portions of Christie’s appeal and leaving him nothing to work with.
Even after losing the nomination, things still seemed good for Christie. Free of the tension at the top of the ticket, he had a solid shot at being a major player in Trump’s administration by being one of the first 2016 candidates to endorse Trump. He was even one of the three finalists for Trump’s running mate, alongside Newt Gingrich and the eventual pick, Mike Pence. Even after that, he was chosen to head up Trump’s transition team - a big role that would serve as a gateway to some kind of Cabinet or high-level executive position.
But then Bridgegate came back with a vengeance, when two aides testified that Christie did, in fact, know about the closures. This renewed interest in the scandal and hurt Christie’s brand even more. Following Trump’s victory, the return of the scandal - as well as Christie’s choices for the transition team consisting of too many lobbyists and establishment-types - culminated in Christie being fired, replaced by Mike Pence, and most of his previous associates in the transition team being purged as well.
And that’s that. Christie is now closing in on the end of his second term in 2017, unable to run for reelection, and probably likely to lose even if he could run for a third term. His approval ratings in New Jersey now hover in the range of the 20s - which, in American politics, is worse than being in a coma.
At least the other original “savior” of the GOP, Marco Rubio, was resoundingly re-elected in his home state - even after a humiliating, double-digit primary loss to Trump, and initially withdrawing from the Senate race only to re-enter, Ross Perot style. Thus, while Rubio and his wing of the Republican Party - namely, those with some connections to both the establishment and the grassroots, while being moderate on key issues such as immigration - may have been set back quite a while by Trump’s victory, at least Rubio managed a strong comeback, and thus still has an immediate future. He’s guaranteed his seat for at least another 6 years - enough time to possibly stage a comeback after Trump’s 4 or 8 years - and he’s obviously still young enough to stay relevant for quite a while.
Christie, on the other hand, is done. No President, Vice President, no Cabinet position, nothing. In roughly a year and a half, this man went from destined savior of the GOP, to gone and already forgotten.
Rest In Peace, Chris Christie’s political career.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.