Gov. Chris Christie, the tough talking conservative from New Jersey, has finally made his candidacy for president official. Unfortunately, he has a Wall Street problem he never expected.
It’s not the same Wall Street problem most candidates have — the problem that the candidate is a little too cosy with Wall Street.
Christie’s problem is that he’s a candidate that should be designed for Wall Street. He has moderate social views, he’s from the northeast, and his wife worked for Goldman Sachs before leaving to join his campaign.
Christie’s Wall Street problem is that super deep pocketed donors from Wall Street just aren’t committing. Not even the ones who’ve shown support for him before.
The money’s just not there
Sources within Christie’s camp told Politico that they expect the campaign to raise around $US30 million by the time the year is over. That pales in comparison to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is believed to have raised around $US100 million already through various campaign vehicles.
Closing that gap is a task for the people who have that kind of money — Wall Street’s billionaires. Some who were once vocal supporters of Christie have decided to support one of the other 13 candidates in the GOP race — or the other two likely candidates.
The most high profile of these defectors is Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets. He supported Christie for governor, but will be supporting Bush for the presidency.
Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer threw a lunch for Christie last month, but he also threw one for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to enter the field in late July. Singer has yet to declare his support for anyone. This from a donor who has given over $US1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), an organisation instrumental in helping Christie win his campaign in 2009 and which Christie once chaired.
Daniel Loeb, the founder of hedge fund Third Point Partners, said he would back Christie for president in 2011 because “you never have a question about where he stands on anything.” Loeb, however, also has yet to declare his support.
Why Wall Street left Camp Christie
Christie’s base of support has been hollowed out by scandal.
First and foremost is Bridgegate. This spring, a former Christie ally pleaded guilty to closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the Mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to back Christie for re-election as governor. Two former Christie aides were also indicted for their participation in the scheme.
Bridgegate, in part, has contributed to dismal poll numbers in and out of his state — another reason why supporters have defected. Christie’s claims that he balanced New Jersey’s budget while underfunding pensions have also been a contributing factor.
And some on Wall Street are turned off of Christie for the same reason others like him — his mouth. He’s a governor known for telling people to “sit down and shut up.” That doesn’t sit well with more cool-headed, pragmatic Wall Streeters, Politico reported in November.
According to Matt Katz, a New Jersey Public Radio journalist who wrote a book about Christie called “American Governor Chris Christie’s: Bridge to Redemption,” Christie was the candidate who was supposed to run on a technocratic, straight talking platform.
Now, thanks to Bridgegate, he will have to veer to the right on social issues like abortion in order to widen his base of support.
There will always be loyalists
Of course, Christie still has some supporters in the billionaire set, the most vocal being Home Depot founder Ken Langone.
“The guy every day confirms in my mind why I think he’d make a great president. He tells it like it is. Three weeks ago he talked about entitlements … the third rail of politics,” Langone said on television’s Wall Street Week. “Now Jeb Bush is talking about entitlements.”
Of course, later in that the same segment Langone said he would vote for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker “like that if he was nominated.” Langone also said was confident the party would coalesce under one candidate when the time came.
He also told the National Journal that he wouldn’t write a $US10 million check for Christie’s super PAC. He’s going to raise money for him the old fashioned Wall Street way, by calling everyone who owes you a favour.
“Would I write a check for $US10 million? No, no I wouldn’t. But I do something better than that,” Langone said. “I go out and get a lot people to write checks, and get them to get people to write checks, and hopefully result in a helluva lot more than $US10 million.”
Both Langone and fellow billionaire Christie supporter Stanley Druckenmiller have made entitlements a central issue for them in the campaign. Both of these men have also been incredibly successful on Wall Street, and there are people all over the industry that owe them their careers.
That means Langone and Druckenmiller are in a position to ask people to write checks.
Christie’s problem is, with such a crowded field and his popularity on the decline, those Wall Street checks won’t add up to what his campaign had dreamed before Bridgegate.
If there’s anything people can’t stand in New York and New Jersey — places where Wall Streeters live, work, and commute — it’s bad traffic.