If Chris Christie has even the slightest bit of self-awareness, part of his soul must have died tonight during the Republican undercard debate from sheer humiliation. Only a few years ago, the New Jersey governor was touted as one of the Republican Party’s best hopes for regaining the White House. Now he’s not only trailing badly in the polls, but he’s not even part of the main action anymore. After three debates where he had at least the chance to go head-to-head with powerhouses like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush, Christie faced the indignity of being relegated to the undercard debate, the sad kiddie table of GOP politics. He was joined in his exile by Mike Huckabee, but it’s been a long time since anyone thought the former Arkansas governor was running for president for any reason other than to raise the value of his brand on the lecture circuit.
Even so, Christie stuck to the central argument of his campaign: that he’s the most electable GOP candidate. He’s made the case before in earlier debates, but it sounded downright strange—and decidedly embarrassing—now that Christie is among the undercard underclass.
Early on in the debate, there was a crucial moment where the absurdity of Christie’s position became evident. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal had condescendingly attacked Christie’s record in New Jersey, throwing in a snarky comment about how Christie was no conservative but deserves “a ribbon for participation and a juice box.”
This allowed Christie to burst forward with his case for why he should be president: “The fact is we need somebody who knows how to beat Democrats … in a Democratic area,” Christie gamely argued. “I’ve done it twice as governor of New Jersey. Hillary Clinton doesn’t want one minute on that stage with me next September when I’m debating her and prosecuting her for her vision of America.” Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, summed up the division between Jindal and Christie as a central one: “This is a real legitimate debate between Chris and Bobby, between someone [like Christie] who says we need someone who can win in a blue state and Bobby who says we need a real principled conservative,” Santorum mused.
The problem with Christie’s argument is that it is self-defeating. After all, if the main goal is to find someone who can defeat Hillary Clinton, then the last place you should look is the undercard debate, especially among someone who has sunk into the mire after being a contender. Jindal and the others can at least offer ideological consolation. Christie is offering a promise of being a victorious champion which has already been disproven. It’s unlikely he’ll make it back to the main debates unless he can come up with a more plausible reason for Republicans to vote for him.