It could be the plot to a screwball mafia flick: the politician on his way to the White House has his shoes filled up with cement somewhere in New Jersey’s vast network of swamps, but rather than sleep with the fishes, he trudges out of the murk and just keeps right on campaigning, carrying the weight around with him door to door, fundraiser to fundraiser, rally to rally. His enemies can’t believe it, but in the end it just made him stronger.
Except this isn’t some straight to DVD Joe Pesci movie. The politician is Donald Trump and the cement in his shoes is Chris Christie. And not only was he going to win the Garden State before his opponents conceded the fight, but the early polls show him within striking distance of Hillary Clinton.
Because in New Jersey—a blue collar, blue state—the most unpopular man can attach himself to the de facto Republican nominee and not cause any damage at all among his Republican supporters. In New Jersey, in fact, such an event can be followed by speculation that, for the first time in 24 years, the state might go red in the general.
What will happen tomorrow in the primary here seems mostly settled.
Ahead of Ted Cruz and John Kasich bowing out of the primary, Trump was leading by over 40 points.
This is a miracle of sorts, considering Trump’s central booster in the Garden State is, for the first time since he became governor, less popular than the state legislature he likes to push around.
According to a Monmouth University poll released Monday, only 27 percent of residents approve of Chris Christie’s performance. Sixty-three percent disapprove. Among registered voters, the numbers are even worse: 65 percent of them disapprove of the job he’s doing. Seventy-nine percent think Christie cares more about his own political career than being governor. Sixty-eight percent believe Christie only endorsed Trump because he wants a political appointment if he gets elected president.
These numbers are historically bad for Christie, but, somehow, they don’t bleed over to Trump.
Among voters polled by Monmouth University, 42 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for Trump if Christie was chosen as his running mate—but even more, 48 percent, said it wouldn’t made a difference to them.
In other words, New Jersey hates Christie like he’s a Staten Island native cast to star on Jersey Shore, but more importantly, nothing matters.
Fatally wounded from Bridgegate, the 2014 scandal involving the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, Christie set out to run for Republican nomination anyway, announcing his candidacy two weeks after Trump announced his, on June 30, 2015, from his high school gymnasium in Livingston.
The campaign lasted all of 226 days.
By mid-February, after a crushing loss in New Hampshire, he was out. By late February, Christie had endorsed Trump, despite having spent the last few weeks of his campaign criticizing him and arguing he was unfit to be president.
“They don’t care that Christie is running Trump’s transition team,” Art Gallagher, who runs MoreMonmouthMusings, a locally-focused, conservative website, told The Daily Beast. “They don’t know what that means, for the most part, and they don’t care about it.”
Steve Lonegan, a failed congressional candidate who served as Cruz’s state chairman here, said Christie’s support has been overshadowed by the intense frustration Trump has managed to unleash and channel for his own benefit.
“I see Trump’s popularity as a reaction from the Republican base to the failures of the Republican Party after the 2010 election, winning Congress, and the whole Tea Party movement—conservatives like me—being told, ‘If you give us control of Congress, we’ll cut Obamacare, we’ll cut spending,’ and they didn’t do it!” Lonegan said.
Cruz, he explained, suffered because he came from Washington—despite his reputation for wreaking havoc there. Conversely, he said, Trump—like Christie before him—manages to convey an outsider attitude that appeals to the working glass.
“They think if Trump gets elected,” Gallagher added, “maybe he’ll take Christie with him.”
And that’s not an impossibility, considering Trump finds himself down just four points behind Hillary Clinton, 38 to 34, in a poll released by Monmouth University on May 31.
Four points, in a state so blue it hasn’t picked a Republican president since 1992. Four points, the kind of gap you can close with a good week or two.
Though, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. People always think Jersey will be at play, and people are always wrong.
“It happens not only in every cycle, but every statewide election,” Patrick Murray, Monmouth University’s pollster, told The Daily Beast of the speculation.
“If we look back eight years ago, to late February, when John McCain had sewn up the Republican nomination, but Obama and Clinton were still fighting it out, McCain was actually ahead of Obama in a few polls at that time in New Jersey,” he said. “In fact, Obama didn’t even get a consistent double-digit lead until sometime in mid-September, and, of course, ended up winning by 15 points.”
Murray—and Lonegan—said that, once Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, as she’s expected to, the considerable swath of undecided voters (28 percent) are likely to rally behind her.
“We always love big personalities here,” Matt Rooney, the conservative publisher of Save Jersey, a politics website, told The Daily Beast.
When it comes to Trump’s embrace of Christie, he said it’s all about power. “They look at it as, ‘huh, he took a big mouth like Chris Christie, an insider, and made him his boy.’ They love it. That’s what they want him to do with everybody in D.C.”
Not that the feeling extends to him, personally. “I’m gonna go in on Tuesday and I’m gonna vote for either Cruz’s delegates or Kasich’s delegates,” Rooney said. “I understand it’s over, but I just can’t bring myself to hand him the keys to the Republican Party.”