By John A. Oswald
Across the spectrum, pundits and political analysts are writing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political obit.
A real shot of taking his in-your-face bluster to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?
To borrow a phrase: Fuggedaboutit!
His polls are down and he had a miserable showing at a conservative political conference last weekend.
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His Exxon environmental deal is being slammed a sellout of the environment -- and taxpayers. And Hillary Clinton had a field day when he suggested it was okay for parents not to choose not to get their kids vaccinated against the measles.
And now, the conservative National Review has a chagrined-looking Christie on its Friday cover, depicting him as Gen. Washington crossing the Delaware in an all-but sunk boat.
“I don’t think his schtick plays in the heartland,” says Doug Muzzio, the dean of New York City political analysts and Baruch College public affairs professor.
It’s not style that’s hurting him most, however, Muzzio tells Metro.
To borrow another phrase: It’s the economy, stupid.
“It’s things like the pension fund crisis. He didn’t create but he didn’t solve it,” says Muzzio. “And his failure to replenish the transportation fund. New Jersey’s infrastructure is falling apart.”
The state’s economy was ranked 35th Tuesday by Business Insider, just beating out Pennsylvania, but behind Kansas and Montana. New York was 11th, Massachusetts 10th, Connecticut, 23rd.
A judge ruled last week that Christie illegally slashed $1.57 billion from Trenton’s annual payment to the pension system. His own pension reform law requires a $2.9-billion payment.
Fourteen unions announced plans to sue and they’ve taken a swipe at his White House ambitions.
“This governor’s illegal underfunding has brought the pension system to the brink of crisis and resulted in more credit downgrades than any previous governor in history,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech.
“It’s a shame that this governor has decided to spend all his time courting Iowa caucus-goers, not addressing the serious problems plaguing his home state.”
At a town hall meeting earlier this week in Fair Lawn, NJ, Christie says tough choices must be made and that the idea of raising taxes is “untenable and unacceptable situation."
The National Review, like Muzzio, notes that Christie inherited a mess -- and that his attempt to fix mess have fallen short.
“The way New Jersey has mismanaged [the pension] system over 25 years — with a succession of administrations and legislatures engaging in accounting tricks, backroom deals, and outright deception about how much money was in the pension funds — is indicative of how Trenton has mishandled its other fiscal affairs,” writes TNR’s Steven Malanga.
Beyond Jersey’s economy, Bridgegate also tarnished the former federal prosecutor’s reputation, Muzzio and Malanga agree. That’s the George Washington Bridge scandal in which vengeance-bent aides to Christie ordered lane closures to the main trans-Hudson road route into NYC.
The resulting traffic overflow paralyzed local streets near the bridge in towns whose mayors did not endorse the governor’s 2013 reelection.
Christie fired several longtime loyalists, apologized to the state, and insisted he was “blind-sided” and didn’t order the retribution.
The scandal raised questions about judgement, says Muzzio.
“Even if there is no smoking gun, these are the people he has around him? Can you trust this guy to pick someone to be secretary of defense?” he said.
And then there is that “schtick,” Muzzio talks about. It didn’t work with conservatives at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md.
In closely watched straw poll last weekend of activists in the GOP’s base, Christie placed 10th, with 2.8%. Among those ahead of him were developer Donald Trump in 8th, ex-Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, 5th. and the winner, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, with 25.7%
Christie got 7% in 2013 when he was snubbed by CPAC and not invited to speak.
He defended his brashness when radio host Laura Ingraham asked him about his bully reputation at a conference Q&A.
“Yeah, but 'sit down and shut up'?" Ingraham asked.
"Yeah, well, sometimes people need to be told to sit down and shut up," the governor shot back to some laughter and applause.
Christie seems to think he did okay at CPAC.
“I was interviewed by Laura Ingraham, no pushover interviewer at all. But I thought we had a really good interchange,” he told top donors Monday in a private conference call, according to Politico.
“I thought the reception at CPAC, with a couple of thousand people in the room was a standing ovation when I left, and I don’t think many people would have bet on that before we showed up at CPAC, so I was happy with the way that went.”
Christie is reportedly banking on the GOP primary debates to turn things around and said his opponents on both sides of the aisle dislike him because of his blunt approach.
"When you do things that I’ve done in New Jersey to take on special interests frontally that they support, they just wanna kill you," he said of critics.
"Here’s the bad news for them: Here I am. I’m still standing and I’m going to continue to do it.”