When does an endorsement go bad?
When does a supporter become so foul that a candidate cannot accept the support any longer?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faces that question now.
Christie does not have a lot of major endorsements for his presidential run. But he has gained traction in the first primary state of New Hampshire—where every recent poll has had him in double digits and his backers argue that he could yet emerge as the strongest alternative to the hot mess of demagoguery that is Donald Trump. In fact, there is a case to be made that, from a northeastern base, the governor could yet emerge as a (relatively) mainstream alternative to Trump and the extreme-right candidacy of Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Now, however, Christie has a demagoguery problem.
Yes, the Garden State governor is known for his sometimes abusive language.
But this demagoguery problem involves a supporter—arguably, Christie’s most prominent supporter.
Maine Governor Paul LePage is a big Christie backer.
Christie makes no secret of the fact that he thinks that backing is important. When LePage announced the endorsement last July, the New Jersey governor flew to Portland and described the Maine governor as “a ‘great friend’ who will play an important role in his bid for the White House.” (Only one other governor, Maryland’s Larry Hogan, backs Christie.)
Maine is an important state for Christie, who hopes to run well in the March 5 Republican caucuses there. A strong showing in New Hampshire and wins in states such as Maine could muscle up Christie’s claim that he has broader appeal than Trump or Cruz.
That strategy relies on LePage, a Tea Party favorite who has twice been elected in Maine.
But LePage comes with baggage. He’s a crude, reckless, and racially insensitive blowhard who makes Trump sound responsible.
This week, the Maine governor out-Trumped Trump by a good distance, unleashing an “explanation” for a serious issue—New England’s heroin epidemic— that Mainers and national commentators have characterized as “overtly racist” and indicative of a “racist… world view.”