Chris Christie, the governor who emerged from Superstorm Sandy a year ago as a defiant hero in the face of natural disaster, was today sworn into his second term rocked by two storms of a different kind: snow and scandal.
With a winter tempest brewing outside, the normally bombastic Christie acknowledged the empty seats in the auditorium of the Trenton War Memorial with an air of humility.
“So to the folks who could not quite make it down to the New Jersey Turnpike to be with us this morning, I understand,” he said. “To the hearty souls who are here, you have my thanks.”
Even the extended applause that greeted him as he took the stage seemed almost comforting.
“You can tell, Patrick, by the applause that your father got, that he is loved,” the Rev. Giles Hayes, who delivered the invocation at today’s ceremony, said to Christie’s youngest son Patrick.
During his first inauguration, Christie was in all his glory. He made a show of bipartisanship by calling the Democratic legislative leaders up for an unprecedented handshake to mark a new era of cooperation. And the day ended with a jampacked party at Newark’s Prudential Center. Christie himself took the microphone and sang Bruce Springsteen songs deep into the night.
Four years later, riding high on the good feelings generated from his Sandy response, Christie cruised to a landslide re-election in November. Today, he was supposed to have spent the day basking in his biggest election victory yet.
But the weather has returned with a vengeance, this time the storm served to underscore the challenges Christie faces in his next four years as governor.
If there is a celebration, it will be a private one because the storm cancelled an evening reception at Ellis Island. And if November’s decisive victory blasted open the door to a presidential run, for now, those hopes have taken a backseat to Christie’s home state reality.
For weeks, unrelenting headlines have focused on a pair of scandals, one entangling former top aides who appear to have orchestrated a traffic nightmare as an act of political retribution and another calling into question how his deputies administered federal aid after Sandy.
A new Quinnipiac poll released just before Christie took the oath for a second time today revealed more of the damage.
In a hypothetical 2016 presidential match up with Hillary Clinton, Christie is now struggling. He trails Clinton 38-46 after he virtually tied her in the same poll a month ago.
It is the second poll this week to show his standing among independent voters taking a hit.
Christie was still defiant. He dutifully pledged not to “let up,” promised to take on the “sacred cows,” and defy the “conventional wisdom.”
In his remarks, he gave a brief nod to his national ambitions. But his attempt to draw contrast with the “attitude of Washington” seemed like the speech Christie would have more comfortably delivered had he not been battling criticism at home.
Questions about his temperament could continue to follow Christie into the presidential field in 2016, said former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a longtime mentor of Christie’s.
“As far as president goes, I think he’s got more ability, more native ability than anybody else I’ve heard in the field,” Kean said today. “He’s got some other problems in his relationships with people, a couple of his angry outbursts, a couple of things that may give people nationally pause.”
“They’ve got to look at both sides just as we all have to look at both sides when we look at who should be president of the United States and that’s not unusual,” he added.
And so today, Christie rededicated himself to the “solemn” task of being “in short… the governor.”
“In the end, I have had no greater honor in my life than having twice been elected by my fellow citizens to be the governor of the state where I was born and raised,” Christie said.
“With that honor comes solemn obligations–to make the hard decisions, to raise the uncomfortable topics, to require responsibility and accountability, to be willing to stand hard when principles are being violated and to be willing to compromise to find common ground with all of our people,” he added.