Chris Christie’s political alliance with Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has done little to improve support for either on the New Jersey governor’s home turf, even as the relationship has reaped rewards for the duo on the national political stage, say pollsters and political scientists.
Trump, who enters New Jersey’s Tuesday primary with the necessary delegates to clinch the GOP nomination, has said his path to the White House includes winning the Garden State in November, even though Democrats have won the state in the past six presidential elections.
Political experts say the real estate mogul shouldn’t rely too heavily on receiving a boost from the state’s governor, who has been plagued with plummeting job approval ratings spurred by the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal and complaints about the time he spent campaigning out of state for president.
“Christie still has power over Republican operatives, he can still move some levers among Republican party voters, but overall, he has been pretty unpopular since he started running for president,” said Matthew Hale, an associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.
Christie’s endorsement of Trump after ending his own presidential bid in February has been a factor in the governor’s plummeting job-approval ratings, according to a poll released by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind polling institute on May 24.
Forty-six percent of New Jersey voters said Christie’s work on behalf of Trump hurt their opinion of the governor, compared to 6 percent who said the endorsement helped Christie’s image, and 47 percent who said the endorsement made no difference, according to the poll.
“The alignment with Trump may be beneficial to his long-term political prospects, but it’s not doing much to move the needle back home,” said Krista Jenkins, director of PublicMind, based in Teaneck, New Jersey. “For many, cozying up to Trump hurts the governor even more.”
The poll found 66 percent of voters disapproved of Christie’s job performance — an all-time low and a “reversal of fortune” for a governor who once enjoyed steady job approval ratings in the 50s before the bridge scandal, Jenkins said.
Meanwhile, 42 percent of New Jersey voters said they would be less likely to vote for Trump if Christie was his running mate, compared to 8 percent who said they would be more likely to do so, according to a recent Monmouth University poll
Nearly half of the respondents, 48 percent, said Christie would have no impact on their likelihood to support Trump in November, according to the poll released May 31.
“Trump claims he can turn New Jersey competitive in November, these results suggest he probably needs to look elsewhere for a running mate if he wants to make that a reality, ” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
The political alliance has not been a complete wash for the duo in the Garden State — Trump recently hosted a campaign-rally fundraiser for Christie that helped retire the governor’s presidential campaign debt and headlined a fundraiser for the state GOP party that was seen as an effort to build good will among party leaders.
Political experts say there have been other mutual benefits resulting from Christie’s endorsement.
Trump, who has faced questions about his lack of political experience, has gained a seasoned political adviser whom he routinely flaunts at campaign events, they say.
Christie, who was named head of Trump’s White House transition team, has remained in the national spotlight long after the other failed GOP candidates.
“Christie gets to keep playing in national politics, which is something that he clearly wants to do,” Hale said. “He seems less interested in coming back and being a New Jersey governor. For Christie as the transition director, that’s an incredibly power position that elevates his profile.”
The duo first met in 2002, when Trump expressed interest in meeting Christie following his appointment as New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor. Christie has recounted on the campaign trail that Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, a U.S. Appellate Court judge in Newark, told Christie her brother was interested in meeting the newly minted U.S. attorney. The two eventually had dinner together at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Manhattan.
Fourteen years of personal and political friendship followed — Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, attended Trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania Trump, and Trump sat in the pews of Newark’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart Cathedral at a church service to celebrate Christie’s 2010 gubernatorial inauguration.
“In temperament, in style, in persona, in all of those things, Christie is closer to Trump than any of the other Republican presidential candidates, which may be part of the reason they’ve remained close,” Hale said.
The friendship came under strain in the early months of the Republican primary, as the candidates launched attacks against each other, with Christie calling Trump inexperienced and Trump knocking Christie over the lane closure scandal.
But, even as they traded verbal jabs, both men routinely prefaced their remarks by noting they were longtime “friends.”
Speaking at the May 19 fundraiser hosted by Trump in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Christie said the duo’s 14-year friendship was a large factor in his decision to endorse Trump early on in the primary, despite facing backlash from GOP leaders.
“We never, ever make a mistake by standing with your friends, and Donald Trump is my friend,” Christie said.