Even for a US state governor with six months left in office and an approval rating of just 15%, it was an unusually bold move.
But Murray insisted: “He did not get any sun. He was wearing a baseball cap.”
On Saturday, Christie – once the darling of the Republican party and considered a top contender for the presidency – had defended his use of the residence. “That’s the way it goes,” he remarked. “Run for governor, and you can have the residence.”
On Sunday, he tried another tack: the residence was “where my family is sleeping” he said, “so that’s where I’ll sleep”.
Facing mounting criticism on Monday, he insisted he was simply sticking to his previously announced holiday plans. The media had “caught a politician keeping his word”, Christie said – adding that New Jersey had 120 miles of beaches so no one should be deprived.
The governor’s popularity ratings peaked at more than 70% when he was re-elected for a second term four years ago and he won widespread praise for his handling of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
But they plummeted after it emerged his then aides had played a key role in the scandal of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, and have fallen even further since since he pulled out of the US presidential race in February last year and endorsed Donald Trump. Once considered a potential vice-president, Christie eventually lost out on that job to Mike Pence – who soon after the election also replaced the out of favour New Jersey governor at the head of Trump’s transition team.
A Quinnipiac University poll on 15 June gave Christie the lowest approval rating for any state governor ever recorded by the polling institute, with 81% of New Jersey respondents saying they did not rate the job he was doing.
His top deputy, Kim Guadagno, who is running to succeed him as governor in January, said on Monday that his decision to use the beach at the state park while it was closed to the public because of the government shutdown was “beyond words”.
Guadagno said that if taxpayers did not have access to state parks, she would not be “sitting on the beach”. Christie’s Democratic rival Phil Murphy also called on the governor to “get off the beach and get back to work”. Christie ordered the shutdown of nonessential state services – public transport, the police service and hospitals remain open – on Friday after failing to agree on the state’s budget with the Democrat-controlled legislature.
Commentators were scathing about the governor’s latest escapade. “Either Christie is actively working to destroy any political future he might have,” said CNN’s Chris Cillizza, “or he has simply stopped caring. The latter option is more plausible.”