Before a spokesman for U.S. attorney Paul Fishman denied a report that the feds had cleared Chris Chritie in Bridgegate, Dave Weigel argued that the scandal had actually improved Christie's odds of winning the 2016 Republican presidential nomination:
Christie is fundamentally better off because Bridgegate happened. Before the story, Christie was assumed to [be] not just the 2016 Republican frontrunner but a beltway-approved, Morning Joe-feted savior of the Republican Party. You can look at the Judicial Network ads that follow Christie along every trip to South Carolina to see how that plays.Despite the denial from Fishman's office, and despite the fact that the federal investigation is not the only one Christie is facing, I continue to think he's going to walk, because top guys always make sure that no evidence trail ever links them to any unsavory doings that are executed lower down in the bureaucracy. Ask Rupert Murdoch, or every banker who helped crash the economy.
The scandal removed Christie from that position, and bestowed a new one upon him. He was now, like Scott Walker and like Rick Perry (and Richard Nixon, etc and etc) a Republican trying to do his job before being attacked by the thuggish, criminalizing Democrats. He was no longer an MSNBC morning hero; he was the subject of hundreds of segments that linked him to corruption. Christie discovered the right's enemies, and now he's back, attacking state Democrats who keep investigating him as "people who are addicted to MSNBC and the front page of your papers."
I've said many times that I think Christie will survive this, and I've even speculated that Bridgegate could be wiping out the memories of Christie as Obama's pal in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But even I'm not ready to say that the result for Christie could be a net gain.
To win the Republican primaries, you have to appeal to angry Fox/Limbaugh fans and to a dwindling but still somewhat significant sector of the GOP electorate -- the voters who don't get 100% of their political ideas from angry right-wing media. These are the people who put John McCain and Mitt Romney over the top. To them, Christie will still carry a Bridgegate stigma because the mainstream press will still bring it up, and they don't completely reject the mainstream press.
At the same time, with angrier voters, I don't think Christie's shaken the stigma of RINOism. Recently, Byron York asked his Twitter followers to name their presidential favorites for 2016. It's hard to imagine a less scientific poll than this, but York is a fairly well-known right-wing pundit, and he got 338 votes, split among 28 candidates.
Scott Walker got 78 votes. Ted Cruz got 54. Bobby Jindal got 40. Chris Christie got zero.
I think avid consumers of right-wing news and opinion still haven't forgiven Christie for apostasy. And the moderates who still might care what Joe Scarborough thinks aren't ready to dismiss Bridgegate.
On the other hand, Christie does the liberal-bashing thing better than just about anyone else in the field. So I think he has some credibility as a candidate -- just a hell of a lot less than he did before Bridgegate and his Sandy photo op with Obama. Both were huge blunders for him. In terms of the nomination, Sandy might have been the bigger one.