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Chris Christie drops out after reshaping the presidential race by tanking Marco Rubio

He may have gone down, but he did his best to take someone with him.

Chris Christie returns to New Jersey after the New Hampshire primary.
Chris Christie returns to New Jersey after the New Hampshire primary.
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who hung his bid for the White House on his conservative governing record in an otherwise blue state, is expected to drop his bid to be the Republican’s presidential nominee Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

Christie fought hard to be the establishment choice in this election, but he was locked in a four-way battle to capture that title. He had staked his strategy on winning — or placing top among establishment candidates — in New Hampshire, even securing the once-coveted endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader. But Christie failed to capitalize on this success. After coming in 10th in Iowa and sixth in New Hampshire, Christie ended his presidential bid.

But since Marco Rubio, who was emerging as a late favorite to become the establishment candidate, finished fifth, Christie may get credit for hurting Rubio right when he needed a strong finish. In the Republican debate on February 6, Christie tore into Rubio's repeated talking points, eventually starting the #RobotRubio meme.

He should've been a contender

Christie’s decision marks the end of a long fall for a man who four years ago was a strong contender to be the party's elite pick. He first shot to fame when, in 2009, he won the governor’s mansion in a deeply blue state, providing Republicans a much-needed morale boost after losing the presidency and seats in Congress the year before.

His governorship was marked by his famed tough-talking style — "telling it like it is," as his mantra goes — and for taking square aim at public sector unions in New Jersey, a top priority for national Republicans (one reflected by fellow contender for the nomination Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker).

In 2012, Christie made Mitt Romney's veep shortlist and later that year delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention.

But four years later, Christie’s entrance into the Republican field felt more like an afterthought, overshadowed by other candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who were vying for the same subset of establishment supporters.

Many of the postmortem analyses of Christie’s campaign will blame his downfall on the single most memorable event of the intervening years — Christie aides' involvement in a set of allegedly retaliatory road closures now known as "Bridgegate." Though the scandal was never directly connected to the governor, it certainly did tarnish his credibility on the ability to maintain working relationships with members of the opposing party.

This failure — and those of other establishment candidates — to catch on shows how distrustful the Republican base has become

Perhaps Christie’s largest problem was that by the time he ran, his conservative credentials had come under serious question. He once supported issues that have now become a third rail with the Republican base, backing New Jersey’s strict gun laws, endorsing the state's embrace of Common Core educational standards, previously supporting Barack Obama Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and speaking positively of a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

Christie flip-flopped on all of these positions.

Instead, he turned to foreign policy, heightening his already tough rhetoric against Obama’s approach on ISIS and Syrian refugees, in hopes that his tough-guy swagger would make him a vessel for Republicans’ fear and anxiety following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

That approach seemed to work, if temporarily. Christie saw a brief boost in his popularity through December, with his polls in New Hampshire climbing to a high of 12 percent. But in the end, even his tough talk on foreign policy failed to save him.

Christie embraced bipartisanship — literally — when Republicans didn't want to

Perhaps the most emblematic moment marking the beginning of the end for Christie came several years before he was ever formally a candidate. In October 2012, days before Americans reelected Obama, the president visited New Jersey, which had just been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

President Obama Visits Jersey Shore Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Surveying the damage, Obama was accompanied by the governor who, grateful for Obama’s help, praised the president and even gave him a widely photographed hug.

But from then on, the photograph of the two together served as a heuristic for the Republican base, ever more distrustful of establishment politics, to remember that Christie was suspect.

Updated: This piece now cites reports that Christie is expected to drop out.


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