Dems Seek to Paint Christie as Unfit for 2016

Democrats are following the playbook they used against Mitt Romney in 2012.

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It's increasingly clear that national and state Democrats are eager to rough up Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as much as possible so he is badly weakened if he runs for president in 2016.

This is a replay of the successful strategy that the Democrats used against Mitt Romney, another once-promising Republican aspirant, before the 2012 campaign. Romney had been a relatively successful Republican governor of heavily Democratic Massachusetts, just as Christie is a successful GOP governor in Democratic New Jersey.

But Romney was caricatured as a hopelessly out of touch Boston Brahmin who had used his career as an investor to make enormous profits as the expense of everyday people. The demonization strategy worked, and while Romney won the GOP nomination, his image was in tatters by Election Day 2012 and he lost overwhelmingly to President Barack Obama.

[READ: New Jersey's Chris Christie Glosses Over Bridgegate in State of the State Address]

The issues are different with Christie today but the Democrats' goal is the same: Attack the potential GOP nominee relentlessly, and persuade voters that he isn't fit to be president.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives to deliver his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J.
What began as a state probe into New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's gubernatorial staff has now expanded to include his 2012 re-election campaign workers.

There are signs that the Democratic barrage is having an effect. The share of Americans who view Christie unfavorably has increased from 17 percent a year ago to 34 percent today, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center and USA Today. His favorability rating has dropped from 40 to 38 percent.

Christie's critics argue that the governor has created an atmosphere of intimidation in his administration, and they depict him as a bully. The larger critique is that Christie doesn't have the temperament to be president.

Critics have pounced on the way Christie aides apparently arranged to close lanes to the George Washington Bridge last year in order to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, a local town, for refusing to endorse Christie's re-election. The result was a huge series of traffic hassles for residents of the area.

Christie has denied advance knowledge of any political retribution that may have resulted in the lane closings and he fired two aides he held responsible. Defenders of Christie say that, no matter what his aides did, he has done nothing wrong and his critics are going overboard.

[READ: GOP Heavyweights Rally to Chris Christie's Side]

Now there are other charges from the Democrats. "Christie's team is using state resources to try to bully the lead legislative investigator into stepping down," said Michael Czin, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, referring to media reports that Christie supporters are trying to thwart a state legislative probe into the traffic jams.

In an email to reporters, Czin asked, "Isn't this exactly the type of conduct that got Governor Christie into trouble in the first place?" Czin pointed out that Christie has promised to cooperate with the investigation but Czin added: "It's time for Christie to stop the bullying, live up to his own word and face the consequences--whatever they are."

The DNC has begun airing a video arguing that Christie got a negative or lukewarm reception as he traveled around Florida last weekend campaigning among Republicans for Florida's governor in Christie's role as the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

A DNC spokesman said, "The question is--do they still want him around?"

[ALSO: Data Show Christie's Bridge Fiasco Helped Evening Traffic on Bridge]

The mayor of Hoboken also charged last weekend that a Christie aide threatened to deny her town financial aid after Superstorm Sandy unless she supported a development project that Christie favored. Christie aides say the charge is nonsense.

Democrats in the state legislature and federal officials have begun separate investigations of the bridge traffic jams and other issues related to Christie's tenure as governor and the tactics of his aides.

Christie told Yahoo! that the pressure and scrutiny he is undergoing now is making him "readier" to run for president. "I will learn things from this," he said. "I know I will. I don't know exactly what it is yet that I'll learn from it. But when I get the whole story and really try to understand what's going on here, I know I'm going to learn things."

More News:

  • Opinion: There Are Reasons to Question Chris Christie's Bridge Scandal Story
  • Chris Christie Fires 'Stupid' and 'Deceitful' Staffer, Apologizes to New Jersey
  • Opinion: Chris Christie's Posse of Bridge Bullies Disqualifies Him for President
  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.