As Governor Chris Christie and Donald Trump attack each other on the campaign trail, experts are calling the widely publicized contretemps a direct result of Christie’s minor bump in the New Hampshire polls.
Christie had come out against Trump’s proposal that the U.S. close its borders to all Muslims in light of the San Bernardino and Paris shootings, calling any future policy of Muslim exclusion unconstitutional during an interview with conservative talk show host Michael Medved. Trump fired back at Christie by suggesting that the governor had full knowledge of his administration’s role in the lane closures that lead to the Bridgegate scandal.
“The George Washington Bridge, he knew about it,” said Trump at a campaign rally Monday. “Hey, how do you have breakfast with people every day of your lives? They’re closing up the largest bridge in the world. They never said, ‘Hey boss, we’re closing up the George Washington Bridge tonight.’ No, they never said that. They’re talking about the weather, right? So he knew about it. Totally knew about it.”
Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin predicted that the clash between Christie and Trump will be a publicity coup for both.
“He went after Christie and not anybody else, and I think that’s because Christie is moving up in the polls and is therefore a threat,” said Dworkin. “It is his time in the spotlight. Others have had it over the past two months, now is his turn. The fight with Trump will only add to that kind of coverage.”
With the Republican field slowly narrowing now that early upstarts Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson have started to trail far behind Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in New Hampshire and Iowa, Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray agreed that Trump is trying to nip Christie’s mild resurgence in the bud.
“The fact that Donald Trump is going after Christie signifies that he’s taking Christie as a serious threat, and the fact that Christie is going after Donald Trump indicates that he feels he’s in a strong enough position now to try and peel off some of Trump’s voters in New Hampshire,” said Murray.
He was quick to suggest that Christie’s best course of action could be a return to his initial non-confrontational stance on Trump, which was on full display when Trump claimed he had seen “thousands” of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City on 9/11. Though Christie later came out and said the cheering had never happened, he initially said only that he didn’t remember it happening.
“As we’ve seen in the past, candidates who have gone after Trump have had it backfire on them,” said Murray, who had his doubts that the surge in the primaries and high-profile conflict with Trump would help boost Christie sagging approval ratings at home.
Calling the polling data from voters back home “immaterial to Chris Christie and his political future,” Murray said it was doubtful New Jersey’s foundering Republican party could latch onto Christie’s gains.
“It’s not even on Christie’s radar screen,” he said. “And it’s irrelevant because he doesn’t care whether his numbers are up.”