Wednesday, February 12, 2014


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."

Christie called those actions an "extraordinary disappointment."
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.

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.

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."
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?

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.


Buford said...

Heh, heh, you said "to stir something in Republican loins again"...
Chris Christie/Sarah Palin 2016...How's that for getting to the loins...

aimai said...

The real issue is going to be what comes out about the Sandy Funds and the extortion racket going on around the redevelopment site. That has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with actual criminal charges. I think the Obama DOJ has shown that it is willing to prosecute people--see e.g. McConnell for outright crimes. The bridge closure was no more than the match which started the fuse leading to criminal charges for actual financial crimes--if the match fizzles out before the bomb blows up it doesn't mean that the match didn't have a function. The bomb will still go off at the end of the slow burning fuse.

Steve M. said...

Maybe -- but the buck always stops a few rectangles on the org chart below the one for the guy at the top. Bridget Kelly or someone at her level might go to prison, but Christie will walk. (Remember when people still thought phone hacking would bring down Rupert Murdoch? Or Plamegate would end Bush's presidency?)

Unknown said...

He may not face prison, but he faces the prospect of losing his shot at the presidency. And make no mistake, that is a position he greatly covets. To him, that may be a fate worse than prison.
His "brand" is badly damaged in all political camps; there may be no sex in the scandals, but they are simple, easy-to-understand scandals that directly impacted regular people. He can't resume his loutish behavior now because the focus on him is too intense. The media, who previously rarely passed judgment on this behavior, would present it in a far different light now.
Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

aimai said...

Phone hacking did force Murdoch to retire early. I never thought plamegate would reach Bush or bring down his presidency. I doubt very much that the Sandy money issues won't reach all the way up to Christie--it depends on the writing of the law and the particulars of how disbursing the money was supposed to go. Corruption laws can be quite striking and complicated and Christie doesn't have to have pocketed the money to be on the hook for the way it was/wasn't distributed and accounted for.

Steve M. said...

Phone hacking did force Murdoch to retire early.

I'm pretty certain he hasn't retired.

Victor said...

So, Christie's defense will be, "I'm not crooked. I'm an incompetent leader who hired incompetent and mean people to work in my administration."

He may not be done as Governor, you're right about that, Steve.

But, the next year is critical for the serious Presidential candidates to line-up money and supporters.
And there's a good chance he might be otherwise occupied, mounting his defense.

Unknown said...

Oh my god stop drooling over this fat slob. We aren't even two months in to any real investigation and you are saying he's going to survive. He may be able to continue as governor but his presidential aspirations not going to come true. He can't bully anyone at this point so he is neutered. Not only that you can't claim to be a hands on, reach across the isle, get things technocrat and then claim you didn't know what your chief of staff was doing. The two don't go together and either Christie has to man up and say I knew and approved or keep pointing his chubby little fingers at he subordinates.

Unknown said...

Chris Christie's problem, in this and other situations, is that he has an actual job. He can't say there's no legitimacy to the accusations because he's got an entire state (and right next to the media centers in New York, which Scott Walker doesn't have) full of people who know that the accusations are legitimate.

Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity - they can say anything they want because they never have to put anything into practice and they never will.

This is why Christie will be a more formidable candidate once he's been out of office a few years (whenever that is) than he is now.

aimai said...

Murdoch was forced to give over the reins to his son. His closest confidante and surrogate daughter is going to jail. There has been enormous real, legal, fallout from the phone hacking scandal.

As for Christie this is not all about how spinners spin or how republicans can tolerate and even celebrate assholes in high public office. Christie is finished. Absolutely finished. Why? Because there are other assholes clamoring for the money who are a better bet. Rich people don't need to give money to one asshole potential candidate over another when his entire shtick was electability by Democrats in a general election. Christie was always a longshot--just like Giuliani--and he won't even get a chance at the long shot now. No one was invested in his candidacy except talking heads from the northeast who thought they could finally get a money guy past the mouth breathing tea party/evangelists during the primary. Now he doesn't even have that going for him. He could turn it around--sure, in bizarro world--but in the real world he can and will use all these tricks and still come out a political has been.