Monday, January 13, 2014


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.

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....
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.

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?)


aimai said...

Steve, I love you but really? You think that garden variety corruption which gets tried in an actual court of law is susceptible to garden variety propaganda? If Christie is found to have broken corruption laws or inappropriately and illegally appropriated public monies he is going down and no one is going to bother to listen to his quavering voice or his claims to have "done it for you."

1) Christie's acceptance of the Sandy Money and embrace of Obama helped him ONLY with New Jersey residents and Democrats. It actively hurt him with Republicans and the Republican voters outsdie of New Jersey.

2) Pay for play scandals and money scandals and/or convictions just can't be spun as manly good governance.

3) Christie is not in a secure or even important position--if he were a sitting president then the republicans would rally around him. But he's just a noisy governor of a small blue state. No one is that invested in making his career work for him. Even the people who were bruiting his name about or funnelling money to him aren't that invested in getting him over the hump.

Rats are going to desert the SS chris christie faster than you can say "RICO charges"--they are going to pretend he was always a democrat before they are going to pat his heaving jowls and say "there, there."

Never Ben Better said...

I'm with aimai on this one: Taking money for relief and using it to promote your re-election will dovetail nicely with the bridge closure bullying in painting a portrait of a pol hellbent on getting what he wants, whatever underhanded sleazy thing it takes. Especially given the ad firm that produced the ads charged almost twice what the losing, non-Christie-featuring proposal would have cost.

Not only that, but I'm reading that a lot of Jersey Shore residents still haven't gotten any assistance in rebuilding from the funds meant to help them. Just wait till some of those people get to speak their minds to reporters about just how wonderful their governor's been at helping them.

aimai said...

I hasten to add that I agree with Steve that these will always be the strategies that politicians choose--none of these guys ever go down without a fight. But Christie's problem, and it is a real one, is that he has always had a two pronged strategy in dealing with two very different faces of the electorate and every time one prong dominates he loses the other style of voter.

So while Christie might try to have it both ways--be both the hard charging, honest, asshole and the cuddly, technocratic, "I work for my state" guy he simply won't be allowed to. The right wing won't support Blue State Christie and the Blue State voter won't believe his tears and sympathy while the dirt is being pulled up from under the carpet. If Newsmax has dropped Christie--which they already have--the rest of the right wing/tea party is not going to be far behind. Then who is the audience for this stuff?

Steve M. said...

My point is that he's going to say the point of the ads was to promote tourism, and any effect they had on his approval rating was incidental. And can you prove otherwise? They were scripted as tourism ads, for a state (and especially a coast) that very much depends on tourism.

Absent an administration document (electronic or dead-tree) that says, "This will lead to a landslide win in 2013," Christie's going to be able to argue that these were what they appear on the surface to be -- tourism ads. End of story.

Victor said...

You'll know he's in deep doo-doo when FOX identifies him with a "D" after his name!

aimai said...

Everything depends on the exact nature of the corruption laws in New Jersey as well as the way the laws are written surrounding things like the disbursement of the Sandy monies.

If Christie had anything to do with the picking of the advertising campaign, if he took a big that was millions of dollars more than the lower bid, and if he had a fiduciary duty to take the lowest bid then he's toast in a legal sense. You can't know apriori. It all depends on how the laws are written and what the paper trail is.

In addition this is just the tip of the iceberg. If Christie is corrupt in a purely financial sense (which I don't necessarily believe. He can be a lousy human being, a shitty politician, and be mostly power hungry and not money hungry) then there are going to be a rolling series of investigations of every aspect of his administration adn something is going to turn up.

Because there is blood in the water and I don't think Christie is going to have any friends left very shortly.

Steve M. said...

Well, Priebus and Rove have passed on the opportunity to abandon him for now.

Ten Bears said...

I've been to Jersey in my Army days and again to fight a big fire a few years back and have family in Queens, Buffalo and Philly. I can't think of single reason why anyone would want to visit. It's pretty much Camden from one end to the other.

aimai said...

Neither Priebus nor Rove have an alternative candidate yet--but I think you should note that everyone is being very careful to say "In my opinion" and "as far as we know yet." Besides, who cares what Priebus and Rove say right now? The real action is going to be inside New Jersey because the real action for the next year is all going to be political and legal. If this stuff and these investigations go on for six months Christie is going to have to run for President hoping that as a candidate the FBI will lay off him, while the big oney guys will be watching even more closely to see if its worth giving him the money to run at all if he's going to be under indictment.

Mary said...

/sigh Look north, Rob Ford, etc.

You'd be surprised how much bounce some of these guys have.

Lex Alexander said...

The Maddow hypothesis on motive made marginally more sense than the original motive, and Kornacki's hypothesis regarding motive makes signficantly more sense than Maddow's.

Ultimately, though, if he broke the law, motive is immaterial. Prosecutors don't have to prove motive. But it is helpful in building a full understanding of what happened.

Never Ben Better said...

Mary, Rob Ford has been stripped of most of his authority over governance by the city council, and there's no way to impeach and remove him from office under their system. So he can cling on as a figurehead, but he's essentially powerless, fit only for derision or pity, depending on your viewpoint.

Mary said...

NBB, I live in Toronto and I've been following this closely. Ford, like Christie, loves a fight, and now that he's in election mode, he's pretty focused -- well, on being a loud asshole, but that doesn't mean he couldn't win again. Every misstep by his ideological enemies is pounced on, and it's BECAUSE he was stripped of a lot of power that he can successfully position himself as the outsider and underdog. Again.

Do not count Christie out, and don't assume that a bunch of weaker shots will diminish him. You come at the king, you best not miss. There's a few people swinging and missing in Toronto right now, and it could start happening with Christie as well.

aimai said...

No one is saying that Christie can't hang on in New Jersey qua governor. For one thing--he's not up for reelection yet and if they don't or can't impeach him he's not going anywhere. But whether he can wage a successful battle for the Republican nomination when he's been so tarred--both as a moderate/rino and as a corrupt bully? That seems more doubtful. I don't know why people keep acting like the possibility of Christie surviving the primary was not itself an enormous lift for a guy with a ton of baggage and an even larger number of knives out for him. Do you see the Republican governors, in whose states he was about to campaign for the primary, going out on a limb for him? He's personally disliked. At the early stages of campaigning a whole shitload of Republican local officials have to be willing to support him and vouch for him and campaign with him locally if he is to win any primaries. I'm just not seeing it (yet).

Steve M. said...

Do you see the Republican governors, in whose states he was about to campaign for the primary, going out on a limb for him?

Well, Rick Scott in Florida is still planning to do four fundraisers with Christie this coming weekend. Make what you will of the fact that he hasn't canceled those events.