It is nearly impossible to write an upbeat story about Chris Christie launching his presidential campaign.
And nobody tried very hard.
The press once swooned over the New Jersey governor, but long ago fell out of love.
The qualities which once made Christie seem so imposing are now described as liabilities, or at least suspect.
No story, it seems, can be written without describing him as a falling star.
So it is tempting to say that the press over-invested in the George Washington Bridge scandal, and remained in that mode, even after what the governor said turned out to be true: there is no evidence that he knew about the traffic-choking scheme in advance.
But the situation is more complicated than the fickle finger of journalism. Even leading Republicans say Christie missed his moment.
In 2011, when the media anxiously awaited his entry and donors tried to lure him into the race, Christie was at his political peak. One reason that journalists would have welcomed his entry is that he is so much fun to cover—even when he’s ripping reporters for asking stupid questions.
But as a rookie, he decided he wasn’t ready for the presidency.
Now, as he enters an absurdly crowded field, Christie carries more baggage than the fact that his former aide and appointees have been indicted in the political payback plot surrounding the bridge scandal. His state has all kinds of economic problems, saddling him with a 30 percent approval rating at home.
That’s the downside of being a governor. Mike Dukakis ran on the Massachusetts Miracle. Right now Christie is helming the Trenton Titanic.
So even if the media hadn’t soured on him, the 14th official Republican candidate would be facing a very tough road, with a strategy that hinges heavily on scoring big in New Hampshire.
The New York Times says: “Mr. Christie, whose dazzling rise as a national Republican in his first term was matched only by his spectacular loss of stature at home in his second, enters the 2016 presidential race bearing little resemblance to the candidate he once expected to be…
“Just three and a half years ago, Mr. Christie seemed so popular, compelling and formidable, such an antidote to all that ailed the Republican brand, that senior figures in the party pleaded with him to run for president as a substitute for their eventual nominee, Mitt Romney.”
And 55 percent of GOP voters in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll said they cannot envision voting for him.
The Washington Post calls him “a onetime rising Republican star whose political stock fell sharply after a traffic scandal…
“Tuesday's announcement came as his appeal to Republicans was at a low point -- a sharp departure from the highs of late 2013 when he was fresh off a decisive reelection victory in his heavily Democratic state and was seen widely as the GOP establishment favorite for president. Dogged by the ‘Bridgegate’ scandal in which then-aides and appointees snarled traffic in an apparent act of political retribution, Christie's popularity has since plummeted. He's also faced heavy skepticism from conservative activists throughout his tenure.”
Politico’s headline is about Christie’s “Nothing To Lose Campaign.”
It probably doesn’t help that a Newark Star-Ledger editorial writer accuses him of lying on steroids:
“Don't misunderstand me. They all lie, and I get that. But Christie does it with such audacity, and such frequency, that he stands out.”
In his speech yesterday, Christie cast himself as a man who tells difficult truths, even if “it makes you cringe every once in awhile.” Now the pundits, once dazzled by such lines, are cringing at his prospects.
I would just add this note of caution. Christie has a big personality, and candidates in the heat of battle have a way of surprising the pundits. That’s certainly happened so far with Donald Trump, another major-league personality.
Of course, such a surprise would probably require Christie getting on a debate stage. And at the moment, given his 2 percent standing in the polls, he wouldn’t make it.