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Chris Christie Isn’t Dead Yet

Chris Christie’s perpetual “town hall meeting” tour across New Jersey subjects the governor to at least a modicum of unscripted public scrutiny. Though held lately on weekday mornings or afternoons in suburban areas, dissension could theoretically erupt without warning at these events, notwithstanding the legions of State Police, municipal police, plainclothes security personnel, and Christie staffers on hand to promote order. Setting the tone of unpredictability is the governor himself, who famously advises prospective questioners that any topic is fair game, and that if necessary he won’t hesitate to put loudmouths, know-it-alls, smart alecks, etc., in their respective places.

Amidst such anticipation, no citizen afforded the opportunity to directly query Christie at recent meetings has asked him any variation of “Will you or won’t you” (run for president). This must bewilder the national political media, as journalists these days lob some variant of The Question at Christie whenever circumstances permit.

Similarly bewildering to them must be how little interest town hall questioners have evinced in what is almost certainly the most famous U.S. political scandal ever to arise as a result of dubious traffic lane closures: “Bridgegate.” Each development in this saga continues to receive copious media coverage, while interest among the general public appears rather less than ardent. Nonjournalists who show up to town hall meetings and get called upon by the governor largely demonstrate concern with the familiar slate of parochial issues: flood preparedness, public employee compensation, and property taxes.

When at an April 24 town hall—after over an hour of placid Q&A mostly related to Superstorm Sandy recovery issues—Point Pleasant Borough resident Len Ludovico finally did pose a question about Bridgegate, journalists suddenly rustled into action and surrounded the 71-year-old. Presenting himself as a staunch Christie supporter in search of effective rebuttals to deploy when friends and family accuse the Governor of wrongdoing, Mr. Ludovico told me it had never even occurred to him that the question could engender such frenzy. But there he was after the town hall meeting, conferring with CNN personnel and displaying a photo [1] of himself posing with the governor at a recent Princeton University football game.

Even if these meetings are demographically unrepresentative of New Jersey, the apparent discrepancy in priorities between political media and the general public is instructive. Consider the narrative propagated by political media since January 2014, when the release of salacious emails triggered national media attention to Bridgegate. The theory went that any potential Christie presidential campaign had been rendered “toast [2].” Four months later, the vigorous certitude [3] once shown [4] in those heady initial post-scandal days has ebbed—perhaps owing to a steady stream of headlines like this one, from CBS News [5] on April 30: “Could strong fundraising be Chris Christie’s road to redemption?”

Christie’s entrenched support among monied elites affiliated with the Republican Party establishment ought to have been better highlighted all along in the waves of calamitous Bridgegate analyses. The scandal obscured the fact that by January 2014, powerbrokering elements of the party had already exalted Christie for upwards of three years, and there was never good reason to believe this support would totally evaporate as a result of Bridgegate.

For an especially vivid reminder of the depth of Christie’s establishment backing, one need only think back to the night of September 27, 2011 [6], when the governor addressed the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. During the Q&A, a woman rose to beg that Christie seek the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. “Your country needs you,” she pleaded. Then-frontrunner Mitt Romney likely felt at least a tinge of unease when this tearful entreaty led to a thunderous standing ovation. What could constitute a symbolic show of support from GOP establishment actors if not that (melodramatic) episode?

Those predicting Christie’s downfall also would have done well to be more cognizant of Christie’s interrupted record fundraising totals [7] as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, compiled even while Bridgegate mania raged. The role of RGA Chairman affords Christie the ongoing opportunity to cultivate relationships with party financiers across the country. Bloomberg reported [8] on April 9 that Christie had already “generated a record $23.5 million in the first three months of [2014].”

In March 2014, “he attended a fundraiser for Gov. Rick Snyder in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” Bloomberg continued. “During the event, billionaire Richard DeVos, founder of Amway Corp. in Ada, Michigan, and owner of the National Basketball League’s Orlando Magic in Florida, expressed support for a Christie 2016 run, according to a person in the room not authorized to speak to the media.”

Scandal be damned, Christie was designated “Corporate America’s Candidate” by Fortune magazine in January. He’d been enjoined to run by quintessentially establishment GOP figures ranging from Roger Ailes [9] to Mitt Romney to Henry Kissinger [10]. He had won reelection in New Jersey by 22 points. His solid backing among GOP donorists in the New York City metropolitan area—perhaps colloquially termed the ‘Giuliani-sphere’—could by itself bankroll a serious 2016 primary campaign.

Christie is not any kind of shoo-in for the nomination, nor is he even a front-runner—but proclamations of his demise in early 2014 were manifestly premature, and should have been recognized as such at the time. Any presidential primary candidate has to be judged against a cast of other imperfect primary contenders, and the idea that Christie’s imperfections are so uniquely grave as to obviously outweigh those of, say, Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, seems far-fetched. Indeed, “If the Bridgegate scandal irreparably shattered Chris Christie’s standing on the national political stage,” conceded CBS News on April 30, “someone forgot to tell the people who write the checks.”

A final irony is that, based just on what’s presently known about Bridgegate, its implications really ought to factor into voters’ assessment of Christie, but likely will not. The incident reflects poorly on Christie not merely due to the incidental malfeasance of direct subordinates, but because the management structure he personally instituted [11] partly enabled the bad acts. Moreover, the core misdeed of Bridgegate was a capricious wielding of government power to the detriment of average citizens. But Republicans increasingly portray [12] continued inquiries as a partisan nuisance, and by January 2016, the Bridgegate issue may well have receded into the background.

If 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney could overcome his championing of the precursor to Obamacare, and 2008 nominee John McCain could overcome his championing of granting citizenship to undocumented aliens, recent history suggests that to casually write off Christie’s fortunes as a result of Bridgegate would be a mistake. But then, political pundits are a class whose demonstrably disproven predictions are seldom penalized—and usually rewarded.

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#1 Comment By J M On May 20, 2014 @ 8:23 am

I think the establishment has already decided that Jeb Bush is their candidate.

#2 Comment By tiredofbias44 On May 20, 2014 @ 9:54 am

Pundits actually have done Christie a great service, actually giving Christie his best shot at the Presidency.

Come 2016, Christie will say that he is the only one who can hold an out of control federal bureaucracy accountable. The only one who can reign in an out of control Congress by going directly to the people. Town hall style.

He will run clip after clip comparing Clinton/ Obama style of hiding bad actors and the corrupting effect of a slow release of lie after lie. He will contrast that to the quick action he took on Bridgegate. Democrats will be unable to refute his bold action after spending hundreds of million of dollars in media outlets showing his decisive actions!!

By 2016 we will be begging for a leader to shake up a out of control bureaucracy.

#3 Comment By mrscracker On May 20, 2014 @ 10:11 am

It wasn’t “Bridgegate” that lost Mr. Christie’s appeal to the GOP, it was his photo-op with Mr. Obama after the “Sandy” storm & right before the election.

#4 Comment By John Jude On May 20, 2014 @ 10:21 am

In the “law and order” party of many “religious” conservatives, doesn’t anyone care that Christie is a corrupt, self-serving, finger-pointing bully? I cannot see how anyone would view this petty fratboy with a still juvenile demeanor as presidential material. Women voters should be particularly altered to his sterotypical, insulting depictions of Dawn Zimmer and Bridget Anne Kelly

#5 Comment By mrscracker On May 20, 2014 @ 11:30 am

John Jude,
Where we live, “corruption” is mostly expected of politicians & self service is part of the job description.Folks have become pretty pragmatic about it but still take voting records seriously.Perhaps it works that way in New Jersey, too.

#6 Comment By Michael Sheridan On May 20, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

Setting Bridgegate completely to the side, apart from the -R behind Christy’s name, his combative attitude, and his national reputation, what about him is a plus for the voters of the Republican Party? I see the draw for the establishment, of course–he’s bought and paid for. But he’s not the kind of Republican they vote for or get excited about very far outside of New Jersey.

My recollection from when Christy’s name first started to be floated a few years ago was that his supposed draw was that he could win over “independents” and maybe conservative Democrats, which as I also recall was supposedly Mitt Romney’s thing too. But “independents” who can actually be swayed don’t exist in any numbers on the national scene. Nowadays elections come down to who can bring out the base. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents greatly outnumber Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, but vote considerably less often in non-presidential elections. That’s great for Republicans in the midterms, of course, but means that in the presidential elections Republicans need especially charismatic candidates and Democrats need to have rather weak candidates for the playing field to be remotely level. Does Christie really qualify as a Republican heartthrob? If so, could someone tell me why?

#7 Comment By Hank On May 20, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

“Similarly bewildering to them must be how little interest town hall questioners have evinced in what is almost certainly the most famous U.S. political scandal ever to arise as a result of dubious traffic lane closures: ‘“Bridgegate.'”

Pundits forget that the entire world doesn’t look or sound like their twitter feed.

#8 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On May 20, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

I like Christie’s blunt style, but after his recent pander to neoconnery in foreign affairs, I fear him.

#9 Comment By Jonny On May 20, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

The good citizens of Jersey never struck me as a group easily scandalized.

#10 Comment By Ken T On May 20, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

It may very well be true that Christie could still emerge as the “best” of the Republican field; but that says more about the field than it does about Christie.

#11 Comment By EngineerScotty On May 20, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

The article assumes that Bridgegate is a mere PR difficulty that will soon blow over. And it might turn out to be so–GOP primary voters probably aren’t going to care that the Christie Administration stuck it to a Democratic-leaning city.

But a) there’s still the issue of the ongoing investigation, both in Trenton and federally, that might result in further bad news; and b) if the premise to his GOP candidacy is that he’s “electable”, recent polls against Hillary show him getting stomped like wine grapes.

About the only reason Democrats, and democratic-leaning voters really have to like him is that he’s not a hardcore social conservative. But guess what? The likely Democratic nominee won’t be one either.

He may not be dead yet, but the ambulance is racing to the hospital, and the trauma unit (and the chaplain) are on standby…

#12 Comment By Joe A On May 20, 2014 @ 8:26 pm

Even if Christie shrugs off “Bridgegate”, there’s the fact that NJ has now enjoyed SIX downgrades of its credit rating due to his mismanagement of yearly budget projections, and is the among lowest of the states in job creation.

#13 Comment By john On May 20, 2014 @ 9:33 pm

I wouldnt support Christie for the same reason I couldnt support Romney or McCain.

I dont care whether they are conservative or republican.

I will not accept, support or vote for anyone with a strong association to warmongering neocons/AIPAC, apartheid Israel, cowtowing to a big jewish donor like Sheldon Adelson.

I dont like Obama but Obama won because he was anti-war platform. Bush was rejected by the American Voter and public, McCain and Romney lost because they followed Bush in being too closely associated with warmongering neocons/AIPAC…and to feebly subservient to Israel and the jewish/Israel lobby.

You can put all the republican conservative candidates you want up and if they are closely associated with warmongerers then they wont get elected.

#14 Comment By Hal Fiore On May 21, 2014 @ 11:22 am

Most voters weren’t nearly as concerned as the pundits of the day about the original scandal that gave us the “gate” suffix, but it still managed to be Nixon’s bane. Something about actually breaking the law, never a good thing, IMO.

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#16 Comment By Chris On May 21, 2014 @ 11:55 am

I agree with John

I would say that Gov Scott Walker.

The public that wants smaller government wants civil servant unions weakened if not destroyed and the voting power returned to the individual voter rather these large corrupt voting blocks. They want the government in the role of setting standards and auditing complaince but forcing political agenda’s into the classroom.

The public wants the too big to fail banks broken up like they did with ATT and main street restored.

The public wants an end to the tax breaks supporting jobs exports overseas and restructions on immigration.

If your asking what conservatives / republicans will vote for then its the antithesis of the democrats: more work (which means less immigration and less tax subsidies for exporting jobs), elimination of tax subsidies for imports and no more free trade deals that only seem to benefit the banks and credit card companies.

Less Wall Street and more Main Street.

Less unions and more local control by the voter.

Christie used to be that guy to stand up to democrats and unions. but feebly backing down to Sheldon Adelson proves he wont take on any of those sacred cows that Adelson wants to protect.

#17 Comment By Connor On May 21, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

Huntsman 2016!

#18 Comment By philadelphialawyer On May 21, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

I never understood the obsession with Bridgegate. First off, the whole thing makes no sense, as no one in their right mind would blame the mayor of tiny, inconsequential Fort Lee for trouble on the GWB, which everyone knows is run by the PA of NY and NJ. Secondly, even if it is all true, big deal! A bridge was closed partially and temporarily for political reasons. Not exactly Watergate, is it?

I think the media loves Bridgegate. And partisan liberal Dems. The former because they love scandal for business reasons. The latter because they actually fear a Christie candidacy. He might pick off some Blue States.

Most folks, in and out of NJ, don’t much care, though.

#19 Comment By CarolAnne On May 22, 2014 @ 12:56 am

The absurd feeding frenzy over a traffic jam most likely had the unintended by the Dem media mouthpieces of shoring up his support among conservatives who didn’t trust him.

#20 Comment By CarolAnne On May 22, 2014 @ 12:57 am

Should be had the unintended effect

#21 Comment By ElitecommInc. On May 22, 2014 @ 5:54 am

I certainly appreciated Gov. Christie. But his foreign policy, and his immigration advances have not made any sense to me.

And he seems to have lost his most admirable quality — taking a stand and defending it or at least clarifying it — seems to have been lost on the Israel/Palestinian issue.

Troubling

#22 Comment By cka2nd On May 22, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

To the “Bridgegate was just a traffic jam!” crowd: Yes, well, we’ll just see about that if Christie is indicted. As noted above, interest in Watergate ebbed and flowed but it still brought down a president.

To Chris: Breaking the unions in the private sector has caused wages to fall or stagnate and has reduced the constituency with a direct interest in opposing free trade deals or placing reasonable limits on immigration. I don’t really see what breaking the unions in the public sector will do aside from lowering wages (in part through contracting out to companies and agencies where the executives are well paid but the staff are not) and making retirement less secure. Not to mention that the loss of hundreds of thousands of civil service jobs has helped stifle the recovery.