It’s Hold ‘Em Or Fold ‘Em Time For Christie

As he struggles to qualify for this week’s presidential candidates’ debate in Alabama, former Gov. Chris Christie can’t help but hear in the background the faint strains of the late country singer Kenny Rogers: “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”

In his six-month long (and still going) Trump-bashing media tour, Christie — when asked his thoughts on the state of the race and his own future — responded with variations on the theme:

*Failure to do well in the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 23 could convince him to abandon the race.

*He intends to pursue his candidacy through the Republican convention in August.

*Any candidate who fails to qualify for the party-sanctioned series of debates should seriously consider ending their campaign.

*He does not intend to stand aside and offer his endorsement to one of the others.

Christie’s debate participation this week is in jeopardy because, while he has achieved the required number of donors, he has fallen short of the polling criteria.

The debates themselves have not produced seismic shifts in support for any of the participants and the former president — a deliberate no show —has maintained a 30 to 40 point lead throughout.

Rather, should he not qualify, Christie will be damaged by a conclusion that he has gained no significant ground, has already reached his high point of support and his candidacy has lost viability.

Failing to achieve the six percent support threshold in a few regional or national polls is no cause for optimism that improvement lies just ahead.

Adding to the perception of diminishing support, his campaign was notified last week that his name will not appear on the March 5 primary election in Maine because it failed to reach the 2,000 petition signatures required for inclusion.

The campaign brain trust chose early on to ignore the Iowa caucuses, concluding that an anticipated poor finish there could legitimately be dismissed as inconsequential.

He’s placed his entire future on the New Hampshire primary, spending most of his time and serious sums of money in that state to — as he’s said — “do well” and remain competitive.

At 11 percent, Christie currently occupies third place there, seven points behind former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and four points ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.  At 45 percent, Trump’s lead appears insurmountable.

Of course, Christie will define “do well” as reaching double digits, defeating DeSantis, finishing a strong third and gaining a point or two on Haley.

He’ll likely characterize such an outcome as  a momentum shift in his favor and a mandate to continue his campaign.

At the same time, if he falters in New Hampshire and falls below 10 percent or finishes in fourth place, a repeat of his loss and withdrawal from the 2016 primary is likely.

Alas, for him, the next major contest in late February is South Carolina where his polling average has remained stuck at three percent with little opportunity for improvement in a state where Haley served as governor.  He trails DeSantis at 12 percent and well behind Trump at 49 percent.

His national standing is bleak as well, holding steady in sixth place at 2 percent.

A viable path for Christie, even in the event of a strong showing in New Hampshire, seems out of reach.

He’s already under pressure to accept the inevitable and swing his support to Haley on the theory that continuing his quest only benefits Trump, the one person Christie has argued for nearly his entire campaign is unfit to be president.

An endorsement of Haley would be an easy call for Christie, even though as part of his New Hampshire strategy, he’s recently been critical of her for what he feels has been her less than vigorous criticism of Trump.

He’s reserved some of his harsher commentaries for DeSantis, implying he’s “Trump Lite” and would be a seriously weak candidate in November.

Christie has demonstrated his political and rhetorical skills and would be an effective campaigner for Haley.  Should there be a Haley Administration in January of 2025, Christie will certainly be offered a high-level role in it.

He is, of course, the only person who can make the decision to continue to the convention as he’s suggested or leave the field as he’s also suggested.

Failing to qualify for this week’s debate may figure into his calculations at some point, but New Hampshire remains his goal and he’ll likely stick to his strategy at least until the outcome there.

The “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em” advice from Kenny Rogers will continue to echo in the background for Christie in the coming weeks.

Toward the closing of the song, Rogers sings: “Somewhere in the darkness, the gambler he broke even.”  That means he died.

A metaphor, perhaps, for the Christie campaign.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.   

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2 responses to “It’s Hold ‘Em Or Fold ‘Em Time For Christie”

  1. Comparing Christie as governor to Desantis as governor, Christie couldn’t even hold Desantis’ athletic supporter!

  2. Christie barely made the cut for the Alabama debate stage. That shows he’s a losing proposition and should need to bow out completely. He should bow out to put us all out of his misery. The guy is a total fop and is a ridiculous joke and circus barker.

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