The undercard debate at tonight's GOP forum had a different cast than the last few. Kids' table debate regulars Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum were still there, but this time they were joined by two other low-polling candidates: Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee, who were recently booted from the main stage. Nobody quite knew how either of the newcomers would go about the night, but the New Jersey governor's strategy became clear pretty early on. Christie's plan consisted of attacking Hillary Clinton, then attacking Hillary Clinton again, briefly attacking Barack Obama, then circling back and attacking Hillary Clinton once more. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Christie used almost every question as an opportunity to attack Clinton. It was a bold strategy, but its rationale was unclear. Obviously, Clinton isn't a popular figure amongst Republican voters, so insulting her is always good for an applause. But the New Jersey governor was preaching to the choir; presumably, the Republican audience in that debate hall had already decided not to support Clinton. They probably made that decision a while ago.
Christie, meanwhile, is languishing in low single-digits and teetering on the edge of irrelevance. By focusing single-mindedly on the candidate who very likely will be in the general election, Christie only highlighted the fact that, barring some form of supernatural intervention, he will not be in the general. That's, umm, not a good strategy.
When asked how he'd deal with Chinese cyberattacks against the United States, Christie slammed the current administration.
"Remember why we're in the position we're in with China, because an absolutely weak and feckless foreign policy that was engineered by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama," Christie said to applause. "That's why we're in the position we're in."
Later, Jindal went on the attack against Huckabee; Christie responded by redirecting the debate back to Clinton.
"If you think that Mike Huckabee won't be the kind of President who will cut back spending, or Chris Christie, or John Kasich, wait 'til you see what Hillary Clinton will do to this country and how she will drown us in debt," Christie said. "She is the real adversary tonight and we'd better stay focused as Republicans on her."
"The bottom line is, believe me, Hillary Clinton's coming for your wallet," he reminded the audience moments later. "Don't worry about Huckabee or Jindal, worry about her."
Christie didn't even pause to defend himself. When Jindal criticized Christie for being insufficiently conservative, Christie didn't miss a beat.
"You know, the differences between me and Bobby Jindal, we can talk about those," Christie began — but it was a fake-out. "I'll tell you what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what's going to happen to this country if we have another four years of Barack Obama's policies. And by the way, it will be even worse, because Hillary Clinton is running so far to the left to try to catch up to her socialist opponent, Bernie Sanders, it's hard to even see her anymore."
And so on. There's nothing wrong with candidates in primaries attacking the frontrunner of the other party, but Christie forgot the other part — the part where you make an affirmative case for your own candidacy.