In January, when Bridgegate broke, I made a prediction I soon regretted:
... the smallness of the issue, in national terms, is what's going to make GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina shrug it off. In fact, it might be seen as a positive among those voters, who'll assume that if he was behind the punishment of Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, well, the mayor must have done something to deserve it. Christie's strength has been the sense (among wingers and lovestruck media centrists who thrilled to his Fox-promoted YouTube videos) that he's good-bad but not evil -- he dresses people down, but only when they have it coming, and he's a cuddly guy otherwise. The right will assume the bridge story is more of the same.But a Michael Barbaro story in The New York Times today, about groundwork Christie is clearly laying for a presidential run, suggests that I might not have been crazy to think that:
... if there's never a smoking gun linking Christie directly, people who want to dismiss it will say it was the aide's fault. Aides can be fired. This still seems as if it will be contained sooner or later.
... recent polling and discussions with Republican officials around the country have left Mr. Christie's supporters and advisers more persuaded that, despite the damage from his administration's role in touching off days of horrendous traffic on the George Washington Bridge last fall, there is a place for Mr. Christie in the presidential contest, should he opt to run, and they are eager for him to begin inching forward.Do you know what may well have happened? It's quite possible that the mainstream-media focus on Bridgegate has wiped out memories of Christie's outreach to President Obama among right-wingers. Christie is no longer seen as the RINO sellout. Republicans regard the mainstream media as part of the evil left, so if Christie is getting bad MSM press and is still standing, that has the potential to make him a right-wing hero again.
Even in New Jersey, where the latest subpoenas and testimonies from investigations into Mr. Christie's office are monitored closely, his job approval rating remains 50 percent and considerably more voters -- 45 percent against 38 percent -- view him favorably than unfavorably, polling shows.
And well beyond New Jersey, interviews and public opinion surveys show, primary voters remain open to and intrigued by the idea of a Christie campaign. According to a Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa voters conducted at the end of June, 54 percent of Iowa Republicans still have a favorable opinion of Mr. Christie, compared with 23 percent who view him unfavorably....
In two dozen interviews, Republicans in Iowa echoed some of the themes Mr. Christie is eager to stress -- that he is a blunt and charismatic teller of unpopular truths. Most strikingly, few of them have paid much attention to the simmering controversy over the lane closings, or consider the episode to be a major liability for Mr. Christie. Many of them described it, dismissively, as an unhealthy obsession of East Coast Democrats.
"It's one of those deals where the media made such a big deal about it that it went under the rug," said Norman F. Fleagle, a 70-year-old farmer in Indianola, Iowa, who praised Mr. Christie for "having the gumption to do whatever he thinks is right, no matter how popular it is."
"I think it's a good trait," he added.
Barbaro is far from certain that Christie can overcome Bridgegate:
There are plenty of reasons for skepticism of the Christie strategy: Three investigations are still churning, with no end in sight, and the sheer volume of embarrassing revelations about the Christie administration’s conduct and culture could ultimately doom his presidential chances.But notice that he's being attacked on his fiscal stewardship of the state, not on Bridgegate. Here's one prediction I don't think I'll regret: If Christie does run in 2016, his primary opponents are less likely to attack him on Bridgegate -- because that's something those dirty liberals care about -- than on the fiscal health of New Jersey, or on his decision to sign a state version of the DREAM Act, or on his choice not to fight a court ruling legalizing gay marriage in his state, or on his relative lack of Islamophobia.
The governor's rivals are already raising pointed questions about his leadership, including his financial management in New Jersey.
The general election would be another story -- Bridgegate would surely be a problem if, somehow, he got that far. But I suspect that he's taken the worst hits he's going to take on this. I think he's too shrewd to have left any trace of a direct connection to the bridge scandal (or any related scandal). He'll walk. The top guys always walk. Think of Plamegate, or the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal, or the financial crash.
Christie is definitely running. His office posted a self-promoting video yesterday and then took it down, but it was preserved:
As was the accompanying "poster":
Oh yeah, he's totally running.