DeSantis pulled off what Christie couldn’t. Will he capitalize on it?

It’s a tale of two governors, Save Jerseyans.

One (Ron DeSantis) is riding high after turning Florida deep red. The other (Chris Christie) is failing to register in national 2024 polling and, according to a November 2022 New Jersey survey, only 12% of Garden State Republicans want him to run for president again. 12%! Which equates to paid staff and immediate family. Maybe his mailman.

There was a time not so long ago that the latter was a golden boy not unlike the former, but the underlying facts couldn’t be more different.

Then-Governor Christie captured 60.3% of the vote in his 2013 reelection race and carried 19 of 21 New Jersey counties but, as I explained at the time, it was very much an “improvised” landslide. Having forged close working alliances with Democrat party bosses at both ends of the state, the opposition put forth a sacrificial lamb candidate to challenge Christie: Barbara Buono, a legislator with no real name recongition outside of insider political circles. Christie rallied with Union City’s Democrat chieftain Brian Stack and cut ribbons with then-Democrat Senate President Steve Sweeney while his Democrat opponent struggled to raise cash and find momentum.

Content to cozy up to Democrat powerbrokers, Christie generally ignored his Republican down-ballot running mates especially in South Jersey where the South Jersey Democrat Machine was actively repping the GOP governor’s reelection. How far out of his way did Christie go to avoid coattails? I could tell you stories, but what’s in the public record is damning enough. For example, he spent millions of dollars to hold a U.S. Senate special election on October 16th, three weeks before he was on the ballot himself. Why? Because he didn’t want Cory Booker driving Democrat turnout and, in so doing, hurt Christie’s margins. He literally threw away a U.S. Senate seat to protect his “I won a landslide” narrative rather than leverage his own popularity to help Republicans win their first U.S. Senate race in New Jersey since before Watergate. No one should’ve been surprised; one year earlier, he had thrown Mitt Romney under the bus, “embraced” Barack Obama, and arguably helped the Democrat president obtain a much-needed glow of competency in the final days of Election 2012.

Christie didn’t exactly run as a loud-and-proud conservative either. The man made famous by taking on the teacher’s unions four years earlier elected this time to steer clear of messy substance and focused instead on what was at the time generally agreed to be an aggressive response to the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy.

So Christie won a relatively low turnout election and touted his superficially impressive stats (51% of Latino voters in one exit poll), but when someone decided to close a bridge down the homestretch of the campaign, the governor who wanted no real friends in 2013 found he had few left on the other side of the scandal. He didn’t make it past New Hampshire in 2016 when, just a few years before, everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Nancy Reagan and Henry Kissinger were hailing him as the next big thing.

The Ron DeSantis story in Florida is quite another story. DeSantis’s GOP ran as unapologetic conservatives, won a landslide as conservatives, and devoted energy to all ends of the ballot including school board races.

There’s a reason Christie has repeatedly thrown shade in the Sunshine State governor’s direction, folks. He knows he fucked up, and he knows DeSantis is doing it the right way.

But now comes the momentum of choosing.

Christie had a chance to run in 2012. He should’ve; Barack Obama barely beat Mitt Romney who, as we all now know, has the charm of a robot. History makes the man, and you don’t always get a second chance. Christie nevertheless passed on a run under the assumption that Obama was unbeatable. He had missed his window.

Ron DeSantis may be tempted to draw a similar conclusion about Donald Trump’s primary electorate strength. The tragedy of Chris Christie suggests that may be a massive mistake. DeSantis is having his  moment, and Donald Trump’s bungling of the lockdowns (sorry, folks, but there’s no getting around his praising of Phil “Let the Nursing Homes Rot” Murphy) during Covid-19 gives Florida’s governor the perfect opening to draw a winning contrast. That opening is unlikely to exist in 2028 or, at the very least, the Covid issue’s potency will have faded.

It’s now or (maybe) never. One of many lessons to learn from a New Jersey landslide of almost a decade ago.

_

MATT ROONEY is SaveJersey.com’s founder and editor-in-chief, a practicing New Jersey attorney, and host of ‘The Matt Rooney Show’ on 1210 WPHT every Sunday from 8-10PM EST. 

Matt Rooney
About Matt Rooney 8533 Articles
MATT ROONEY is SaveJersey.com's founder and editor-in-chief, a practicing New Jersey attorney, and the host of 'The Matt Rooney Show' on 1210 WPHT every Sunday evening from 7-10PM EST.