Gov. Christie caught at beach after closing all state beaches, Social Media speaks

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CNN) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to sunbathe on a beach he closed is dominating the national news on this day before the July 4th holiday. So, why did he do it? And what does it say about him — and any political future he might have had? I put those questions — and a few more! — to political reporter Matt Arco, who’s seen his fair share of crazy stories in the Garden State. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.

Cillizza: Christie announced a week ago he was planning to spend the July 4 weekend at the beach. Why? And was there ANY sense it would become such a giant deal?

Arco: The governor was asked in recent weeks about his July 4 plans and said he would be at the governor’s beach house with his family at Island State Park. In addition to getting the family together for the holiday, they were celebrating their oldest son’s birthday. As the likelihood of a shutdown became more apparent, Christie was asked if he was changing his plans or if he planned to go to the park, which is one of only two shore spots along the coast that are state parks and thus would be closed to the public. Christie said he wouldn’t change his plans. The event was to celebrate Andrew Christie’s birthday and get the family together.

A giant deal? No. But controversial? Yes. Christie’s popularity in the state is at a historic low. There’s an impasse between him and a top Democrat in the Assembly that’s preventing the Legislature from sending Christie a state budget. New Jerseyans don’t know who Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto is, but they do know Chris Christie. Christie knew he was going to take the brunt of the blame for the shutdown, but he doesn’t have to run again.

The governor was getting criticism from some lawmakers over the weekend for heading to the shore after working the day in Trenton. But putting a picture to the story? Things exploded.

Cillizza: Christie was at 15% approval before all of this. Is it the Trump connection? The presidential bid? Or something more local?

Arco: Christie had rock star status when he was reelected in 2013. He was still feeling the love from his response to Hurricane Sandy and some polling had him in the 70s. Then came Bridgegate. From that point, Christie’s polls took a nose dive. But they didn’t enter the land of “terrible pol.” At some point, the numbers leveled off. That was until images of Christie hugging Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made the rounds. Christie took another hit. (Oh, and his time out of state as chairman of the Republican Governors Association didn’t do him any favors.) By the time he announced his presidential campaign, Christie’s numbers in New Jersey were in the tank. Then came Trump and Democratic-leaning New Jersey soured on Christie even further. At 15%, Christie is the state’s most unpopular governor of modern times.

Cillizza: Has Christie just stopped caring about what people in the state think of him? Otherwise, why do this?

Arco: The governor has repeatedly told the New Jersey press corps he’s not concerned about the negative polling. He also likes to say that he didn’t believe the polls when he was in the 70s and he doesn’t believe he’s as disliked as all the latest polls suggest.

Cillizza: New Jersey has a very colorful history in recent governors — from Jim McGreevey to Jon Corzine to Christie. Is this the craziest story you have covered?

Arco: Bridgegate was crazy and attending a lengthy press conference to discuss Christie’s lap band surgery was pretty crazy. But yes, this takes the cake. A governor caught sitting in a chair on the beach where he told us he’d be. It is crazy. But the optics for him are terrible.

Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The political impact on Christie of Beach-gate will be __________.” Now, explain.

Arco: “A drop in the polls.”

This has the feeling of being like all those other things that caused Christie to taking a drop in the polls.

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