Four years ago, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) defeated Democratic state senator Barbara Buono by a landslide. Last night, New Jersey voters rejected his handpicked would-be successor and two-term lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno (R) and elected Democrat Phil Murphy by 55 percent to 43 percent. The rejection of Chris Christie and his New Jersey Republican brand did not stop there. Despite already holding massive legislative supermajorities in the state assembly (52 to 28) and senate (24 to 16), Democrats actually gained two assembly seats and one senate seat, giving them what the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee described as “record majorities” in the state legislature.
Guadagno’s overwhelming defeat was attributed, at least in large part, to the political albatross that is Christie. In recent months, polls showed the once-popular beach aficionado dropped to a dismal approval rating below 15 percent, making him the least popular governor the state had seen since the invention of polling, as well as the nation’s most disliked chief executive.
How did the man who once enjoyed bipartisan support and widespread praise for his handling of SuperStorm Sandy fall so far?
First, he embraced divisive and regressive policies that were unpopular with voters. He vetoed marriage equality and proposed putting equal rights up for a popular vote. He vetoed common-sense gun safety legislation, including a restriction he himself had proposed. He vetoed equal pay for women. He vetoed a minimum wage increase and a tax increase on millionaires.
Then, Christie’s house of cards came down with a scandal: It became apparent that his administration closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge as an act of retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee who refused to endorse his 2013 re-election bid. The press dubbed it “Bridgegate.” Christie claimed he knew nothing of the scheme, but text messages showed his claims of ignorance were less than truthful. Two top aides were convicted for their roles in the scandal.
In 2015, he announced a presidential run. He moved even further to the right in an unsuccessful attempt to appeal to primary voters, abandoning his prior support for immigration reform and climate action.
When it became obvious that he would not be the GOP nominee, he further embarrassed himself by joining Donald Trump’s campaign in early 2016, awkwardly standing behind the man who would become president as Trump insulted and belittled everyone in sight. Christie had hitched his political star to a man who would lose the state by more than 13 percentage points. Polling showed Christie’s approval dropping, and state newspapers called on him to resign rather than continue to neglect the job he had been elected to do. ” A joint editorial published in six Gannett papers called him an “utter disgrace” for his new Trump-styled partisanship and for his neglect of the state: “We’re fed up with Gov. Chris Christie’s arrogance. We’re fed up with his opportunism. We’re fed up with his hypocrisy. We’re fed up with his sarcasm. We’re fed up with his long neglect of the state to pursue his own selfish agenda. We’re disgusted with his endorsement of Donald Trump after he spent months on the campaign trail trashing him, calling him unqualified by temperament and experience to be president. And we’re fed up with his continuing travel out of state on New Jersey’s dime, stumping for Trump, after finally abandoning his own presidential campaign.”
In a final coda to his disastrous tenure, Christie cemented his image by shutting down the state government and then using his position as governor to take his family to a closed state beach for the day. He mislead voters claiming he had not gotten any sun that beach season, before the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s aerial photography made it clear that he had.
Christie’s response to the public’s rejection of his unapologetically conservative policies, ethical scandals, and bullying behavior: he said, “I don’t care,” as “the poll that matters is when people actually go in and vote.”
Recognizing Christie’s unprecedented popularity, Guadagno tried to distance herself from her long-time partner. “Anybody who knows me knows I’m not Chris Christie,” she announced. But she, too, focused her campaign on bashing immigrants and demonizing “sanctuary cities.” And she lost bigly.
As his constituents rendered their verdict on his two terms as governor on Tuesday, Christie responded in his usual manner: yelling at a woman at the polls who questioned his decision-making, sarcastically telling her about the joy of public service. “It’s serving folks like you that is really such a unique joy. It really is… You’re fabulous.”