Christie must deal with fallout of ‘bridgegate’
Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 23:02
Just a month ago, Chris Christie was hailed as the only Republican who could plausibly defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. He was deemed the unequivocal front runner for the GOP nomination, and political pundits pointed to the broad appeal that a fiscally conservative, forthright Republican, who is able to garner 60 percent of the electorate in a solid blue state, would have.
Now, in light of the revelations in the George Washington Bridge scandal, people are wondering if Christie can even survive his chairmanship of the Republican Governor’s Association?
For those of you unfamiliar with the details of the scandal; in Sept.2013, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s then-deputy chief of staff, sent an email to a Port Authority Christie appointee, David Wildstein, ordering the shuttering of lanes on the most traveled upon bridge in the world. After the story broke, connecting Christie’s office directly with the bridge lane closures, Christie gave the media a 108 minute press conference denying any involvement whatever in the ordeal, and terminated Kelly’s employment.
More recently, Wildstein asserted Christie had knowledge of the lane closures as they were occurring, which runs contrary to the governor’s claim that “I had no knowledge of this—of the planning, the execution or anything about it—and that I first found out about it after it was over.”
To be clear, Wildstein is not claiming that Christie himself ordered the lane closures. That would be the smoking gun Democrats and many in the media are yearning for.
However, the memo the Christie administration released in response to the accusations is further evidence for the assertion that Christie fosters a bellicose and pugnacious culture in his office. The 700-word memo, first disclosed by Politico, attacked Wildstein personally, and in part read: “As a 16 year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election. He was publically accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.” Mind you, Wildstein is 54 years old. And also note that Christie commended Wildstein’s tenure as a Port Authority official when he resigned late last year. If Christie is trying to shed the perception many have of him—that he is a political bully—then this is the antithesis of how to go about that.
As of now, we only have evidence that Kelly acted alone and had vindictive motivations—to deliver a political punishment to the mayor of Fort Lee, the city on the New Jersey end of the bridge, for his failure to endorse the Christie’s candidacy. Christie has not been directly linked. If he is eventually connected his political career would be over immediately, and he would likely have to resign his governorship.
Nonetheless, Christie’s poll numbers have suffered a tremendous blow. A Reuters-Eagleton poll released on Jan. 22 revealed that his favorability in New Jersey has dropped to 46 percent, down almost 20 points since his re-election in November. Another poll, conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 28, found that the number of Americans who view Christie favorability stands at 22 percent, down 11 percent since October.
In other words, Christie is no longer the indubitable frontrunner—at least for now.
The pressing questions remain: will any proof surface that the governor had any involvement prior to the closures? Did he, as Wilstein claims, know what was occurring at the time of the closures? And did he have any knowledge afterwards as to the real reason for the closures?
These questions sound familiar? If you thought of Hillary Clinton and the militant attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including an ambassador, then this is a central problem with Christie’s aspirations for the presidency. One of the areas on which Republicans plan on hitting Hillary hardest is on her self-professed “biggest regret”—Benghazi—during her tenure as Secretary of State. Having a scandal of his own, albeit far less consequential in nature, would make it difficult for Christie to chastise her. It would be reminiscent to Mitt Romney attempting to criticize President Obama’s healthcare law, when a similar plan was implemented in Mass. under Romney’s term as governor.
It is still early to arrive at definitive conclusions regarding the role Christie played in this scandal, but the fact that this hovers over his head will most definitely scar his chances in 2016. The degree to which he will be disadvantaged is yet to be determined.