New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, once a star in the Republican Party with a nearly 80% approval rating, will leave office on Tuesday as the least popular governor in his state’s history.
Christie began his seven-year tenure in office as a big-tent Republican, viewed by many across the aisle as a tough straight-talker. Following the destruction of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, his approval rating surged into the high 70s and he won reelection by a landslide in 2013. Once unafraid to diverge from party orthodoxy, Christie has in recent years tacked right, running for president on a conservative platform and endorsing a president widely despised among New Jerseyans.
After several scandals, including the criminal convictions of two of his top aides, and a failed 2016 presidential bid, Christie has just a 14% approval rating and is widely disliked in his own state and party.
Here is the series of events that led to Christie’s decline:
In 2013, two lanes on the New York-New Jersey George Washington Bridge were ordered closed for several days, paralyzing the town of Fort Lee. A subsequent investigation found that Christie’s office ordered the closures to “get back” at a Democratic mayor who did not support Christie’s reelection.
Two of Christie’s senior officials were sentenced to prison for their role in the ordeal. Christie was not criminally charged in the scandal and rebuffed calls to resign. But his aides and federal prosecutors said that the governor was aware that his top officials were involved in the ordeal as a way to punish the mayor at the time that it was happening.
The scandal, known as “Bridgegate,” shattered Christie’s popularity in the state.
A failed bid for president
- Alex Wong/Getty Images
Christie surprised both parties and his own constituents when he announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in June 2015.
Over the course of his eight-month campaign, the governor abandoned his identity as a moderate, moving right on several key issues, including immigration.
Christie dropped out of the race after winning just 7% of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire in mid-February 2016.
Christie endorses Trump
In February 2016, Christie endorsed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump just two weeks after Christie bowed out of the race.
“I can guarantee you that the one person that Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on that stage come next September is Donald Trump,” Christie said at a press conference. “They know how to run the standard political playbook against junior senators and run them around the block – they do not know the playbook with Donald Trump because he is rewriting the playbook.”
Christie’s endorsement, which came several months before Trump clinched the party’s nomination, shocked the political world – and many New Jerseyans – provoking yet another backlash against him.
“We’re fed up with his opportunism, we’re fed up with his hypocrisy,” wrote six New Jersey newspapers in a joint editorial asking for Christie to resign or be pushed out. “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.”
In the week following the endorsement, Christie’s approval rating dropped from 33% to 27%.
And many fellow Republicans voiced shock and dismay.
“None of us understand why he did this,” said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has since been appointed by Trump to be the US’s ambassador to the UN.
Christie’s tumultuous relationship with Trump
After his endorsement of Trump, Christie played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the presidential campaign, helping prepare Trump for debates and liaise with policy experts, donors, and other potential allies.
But when the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump was recorded boasting about sexually assaulting women, was released just a few weeks before the election, Christie appeared to take a step back from the nominee, calling Trump’s comments “completely indefensible.”
The governor had reportedly been positioning himself to be attorney general, but wasn’t offered the job and was forced to hand the reins of the transition over to Vice President Mike Pence three days after the election.
Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, said in September that Christie missed out on a Trump Cabinet nomination because of his failure to support the president in the wake of the tape’s release.
By June 2017, Christie’s approval rating – at 15% – didn’t look like it could get any lower.
But over the July 4th weekend, Christie was photographed lounging on the beach outside of the governor’s seaside residence in Island Beach State Park during a state-wide government shutdown.
The incident sparked immediate outrage, as regular New Jerseyans were prevented from enjoying many of the state’s beaches that holiday weekend.
And Christie appeared to lie about his beach outing, telling reporters at a press conference later that day that he “didn’t get any sun today.”
When NJ.com posted the photos, which were taken with a long-range lens from a small plane, the governor’s spokesman, Brian Murray, had to clarify that Christie had, in fact, gone to the beach.
“He did not get any sun,” Murray said. “He had a baseball hat on.”
Democrat Phil Murphy replaces Christie
Democrat Phil Murphy, a former Wall Street banker and ambassador to Germany under former President Barack Obama, triumphed over Christie’s deputy, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, in the November 2017 gubernatorial election, carrying the state by 13 points.
Guadagno attempted to distance herself from Christie during the course of the gubernatorial campaign. But the effort was not enough to overcome the state’s dismal view of the Republican Party, and their governor.