Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie is polling in the low single digits for the Republican presidential primary. Despite his lack of popularity with actual GOP voters, he continues to endear himself to liberal pundits.

Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie after speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 28, 2023. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

If the current polling is any indication, Chris Christie’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination isn’t just a failure — it’s a train wreck. Despite Christie’s national name recognition, campaign experience, and characteristically bullish debate performances, he has yet to break out of the low single digits and has somehow fared even more poorly than the dull-as-ditchwater former vice president Mike Pence, who dropped out of the race late last month.

In many ways, it’s not particularly surprising that the former New Jersey governor has failed so spectacularly to get off the ground. Donald Trump now enjoys a position of such total dominance in the Republican Party — and its presidential primary polling — that the entire race has more or less bent itself around him. Since Christie’s strategy involves trying to distinguish himself by attacking Trump directly, it was only natural the pitch would fail to resonate with a GOP electorate in which Trump remains so resoundingly popular.

Officially, Christie’s team has briefed the press that they intend to run a lean campaign that persists long enough to be the de facto anti-Trump choice come Super Tuesday. Considering the near-immediate collapse of the elite-backed and better-financed Ron DeSantis candidacy, this is hard to take seriously. If DeSantis’s exorbitantly well-funded attempt to pitch himself as a “Trump-lite” figure has flopped among a Republican electorate that prefers the real thing, it’s patently obvious that Christie’s explicitly anti-Trump message won’t get him anywhere with that electorate either.

Judged by a different metric, however, Christie’s campaign has been a smashing success. While the former governor may not have endeared himself to more than a negligible sliver of conservative primary voters, he has turned himself into a minor folk hero among some liberals. “Chris Christie is doing something very, very important,” wrote the New York Times’ Frank Bruni emblematically in June, adding that Christie’s salvos against Trump “couldn’t be more emotionally gratifying” and praising his willingness to “tell the unvarnished truth.”

“Out of the miasma of Republican denial, a bold truth teller has emerged,” gushed Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian, before praising Christie’s “poetic” description of Donald Trump as “a lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog.” “What Christie does bring to the race that no other non-Trump candidate has brought in a while is some life. A touch of energy. A little gosh-darn fun around here!” declared Jim Newell of Slate. Since entering the race, Christie has also laughed it up on a podcast cohosted by former Democratic strategist James Carville (where he was sympathetically introduced as a “welcome addition to the contest”) and been branded “the liberal pinup boy” of the moment by former MSNBC host Chris Matthews.

The Times’ Michelle Goldberg has similarly called Christie’s attacks on Trump’s “amusing,” but — showing greater self-awareness — she was quick to add that her own “enjoyment of his newfound Resistance shtick doesn’t bode well for Christie,” given that the people “he needs to win over are not liberal New York Times columnists, but voters who hate liberal New York Times columnists.”

It’s a fair point, though an obvious one. Thanks in part to the effusive praise he’s received from liberal pundits, Christie has seen his popularity with Democrats soar to a point that it now far exceeds the anemic level of support he enjoys within his own party — a development with obvious parallels in other anti-Trump GOP figures like former Wyoming congressman Liz Cheney and former president George W. Bush.

Rival candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy have gone as far as suggesting that Christie’s real purpose has been to audition for a postelection gig at MSNBC all along. Notwithstanding Ramaswamy’s own opportunistic maneuvering vis-à-vis Donald Trump — much like the former New Jersey governor, Ramaswamy has oscillated between condemning and embracing Trump depending on what suits him at a given time — there’s a certain plausibility to the claim.

Regardless of what Christie’s motivation ultimately turns out to be, the most notable thing about his campaign is how it has functioned, first and foremost, as a form of cathartic entertainment for elite liberals. And whatever pretense the candidate maintains that he’s engaged in a serious effort to defeat Donald Trump, it’s increasingly clear that his primary constituency consists of neither conservative elites nor actual conservative voters.

In all likelihood, Christie’s campaign will end early next year with a single-digit showing in Iowa. If a cable news primary existed, however, he would probably win in a walk.

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