The longer the Chris Christie scandals go on, the more I expect him to get away unpunished. There's no sex in this scandal. There are no drugs. There's no Blagojevich-style audio of the principal target in all his venal glory. Absent those, we never punish chief executives these days.
Promising story-advancers aren't panning out: No, after the 9/11 anniversary commemoration Christie's helicopter didn't turn north so he could watch the traffic tie-up on the George Washington Bridge before turning south toward Trenton. Yes, David Wildstein said that "evidence exists" tying Christie to Bridgegate, but no, that evidence hasn't been found, and no one has seconded Wildstein. (And Christie doesn't seem stupid enough to have generated a paper or electronic-message trail that might still exist.) You'll say it's early days, but the investigations are too slow -- the rhythm is all wrong for our ADHD age. Jersey residents and MSNBC watchers still care about the story, but the rest of America has mostly tuned out.
I'm almost surprised that Christie's poll numbers seem to be plummeting across the board -- I'd almost think he'd be more popular right now among Republicans than he was before the scandal broke, because he's a onetime hero who's under siege. He's still getting love from most of the Morning Joe crowd, but ordinary Republicans don't seem to have his back.
That's not because he's scandal-plagued. It's because, as he made clear in an appearance in Chicago yesterday, he's conceding too much error on his administration's part, rather than doing what Republicans love, which is to blame all of his problems on the evil liberal conspiracy to destroy True Conservative Patriots:
"Large organizations are dynamic and incredibly creative because they're inhabited by human beings," [Christie] said. "They're also incredibly flawed because they're inhabited by human beings. So some people that worked for me made incredible mistakes in judgment."No, that's not what you say, Chris. You say: This is a partisan witch hunt driven by liberal media ideologues who will say and do anything to undermine a Republican.
Christie called those actions an "extraordinary disappointment."
And I don't know why Christie was selling himself as a 2016 presidential candidate this way:
... Mr. Christie ... complained that George W. Bush was "grossly underappreciated" in the White House and seemed to make a novel case for his own, now-blemished candidacy for president in 2016.That's Christie's case for himself? Republicans have to settle for him if they know what's good for them? What Republican wants to hear that? And he's doing it, in part, by invoking Bush, whom most Republicans want to pretend they never supported?
The successful presidential campaigns of both Mr. Bush and Bill Clinton, Mr. Christie said, required displeased skeptics within their own parties to "suck it up and get behind" them.
The party, Mr. Christie appeared to argue implicitly, should do the same when it comes to him. "Parties tend to become pragmatic when they are powerless," he said. "It's time for us to get pragmatic."
Mr. Clinton, he said to knowing laughs, "was far from the perfect candidate."
When Christie was riding high in the polls, this message might have made sense -- You and I both know that I can beat Hillary, so if you want to waste your support on some right-wing purist who's going to lose to her, hey, it's your funeral. But he's weakened now. He can't expect to win by begging. He's got to make these people fall in love with him.
Christie may well survive this scandal period, but what's destroying his chance of winning the primaries in 2016 is that he's letting Republican voters see him as weak. Republicans first grew to love Christie because he seemed to be putting the hurt on his enemies. Oh, sure, Republican voters love right-wing martyrs -- but they love martyrs who still seem angry and unharmed. (Notice that Mike Huckabee rose in polls of GOP voters after his "libido" remarks exposed him to criticism but no actual harm.)
In order to stir something in Republican loins again, Christie has to stop conceding that there's any legitimacy to Bridgegate and related scandals. He has to lash out. He has to deny that there's anything wrong with him. Democrats are evil. His potential primary opponents are evil. (Mitt Romney did an excellent job of running attack campaigns against his primary opponents in 2012.) In short, Christie has to be an obnoxious jerk again. If he tries that, he can bounce back.