My initial response to last week's Bridgegate revelations was a significant underestimation of how much trouble Chris Christie was in -- so maybe you shouldn't trust me when I say a new development could bounce the governor's way. Nevertheless, I worry that this is going to seem like piling on, and might give Christie a chance to go all operatic and soulful and self-pitying on us, in a context in which that might actually play well:
Just days after dismissing two top advisers for their roles in the George Washington Bridge scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is facing questions over the use of Superstorm Sandy relief funds.Yup -- and here's the problem: There was no reason whatsoever to close those bridge lanes that was consistent with proper governance. Nobody buys the "traffic study" excuse. Republicans who keep trying to compare this scandal to issues in the Obama presidency continue to overlook the fact that security at that Benghazi facility was a product of the tension between trying to do outreach to locals and trying to keep personnel safe; NSA surveillance might be extremely heavy-handed, but the government has an interest in anticipating and deterring terrorism; Obamacare has been mismanaged, but expanding access to health insurance is a worthy goal; and it's actually appropriate for the IRS not to extend favorable tax status to partisan groups when that status is intended strictly for nonpartisan groups. In other words, the Obama scandals are all the result of real or imagined errors in execution and judgment in the pursuit of worthwhile ends.
CNN has learned that federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used those relief funds to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family....
If the Sandy inquiry finds any wrongdoing, it could prove even more damaging to Christie's national ambitions. His performance during and after the superstorm has been widely praised....
You can't say that about Bridgegate. It's obvious that Bridgegate is pure vengeance.
But those Jersey tourism ads? I knew that there was a gubernatorial election coming up in 2013, so it was obvious to me when they showed up on my TV that they were campaign commercials disguised as tourism ads. But they look like tourism ads. And the goal of getting vacation-minded people to consider New Jersey in the aftermath of Sandy does seem worthwhile.
This gives Christie the chance to give us his mournful-hound-dog look and tell us with a quaver in his voice how he walked those shorelines and he saw the devastation and he spoke to people who'd lost everything, and if anyone thinks he was going to hold back and not use his power as governor to help those people get back on their feet, then they don't understand what kind of man he is, because he loves New Jersey, and the foremost thing on his mind was doing what's best for the state.
Look, I could be wrong again. Maybe there are smoking-gun emails in which members of Team Christie describe taxpayer-funded tourism ads as campaign commercials. But if not, this isn't going to amount to much.
Oh, and for what it's worth, Christie isn't the first New Jersey governor to feature himself in tax-funded tourism ads:
Meanwhile, I'd like to see a lot more attention paid to the theory of Bridgegate outlined by Steve Kornacki on MSNBC over the weekend: that it was an attempt to put a scare into Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich as he struggled to finalize funding for part of a billion-dollar development in his town under the George Washington Bridge -- a development for which an easy commute to Manhattan via the bridge is a principal selling point. Watch the segment, read the follow-up at Talking Points Memo, and see if it doesn't make sense. (Yes, I think it makes more sense than the Rachel Maddow theory that the traffic tie-up targeted the majority leader of the state senate, a Fort Lee resident, because of a dispute over judicial appointments: why would the emails on this subject say nasty things about he "little Serbian" -- Mayor Sokolich is of Croatian descent -- if he weren't the target?)