Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Michael Lind is a Texan and a very smart political observer, but I think he's wrong about the likely consequences of the Rick Perry indictment:
Chris Christie is perhaps the biggest winner from the Perry indictment. Bridgegate was an enormous blow to Christie, for two reasons. First, it destroyed his carefully crafted image as a nonpartisan nice guy instead of a stereotypically sleazy New Jersey pol. Second, forcing commuters to be stranded in traffic during rush hour to punish a political enemy is the kind of abuse of power that is easy to understand -- unlike using a line item veto to cut one of a couple of sources of funding for the office of a county lawyer who pleaded guilty to drunk driving..

Now the indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry allows Republicans to change the narrative, from "Who knew that Chris Christie was such a bully!" to "Look how liberal prosecutors are trying to bring down every Republican governor who is a potential president!"

[The] indictment of Perry, then, will probably help the more electable Christie or [Scott] Walker, whom Democrats should fear, while hurting, to some degree, the unelectable Perry, whom Democrats should prefer as the Republican presidential nominee.
Wait -- Chris Christie's image used to be "as a nonpartisan nice guy"? No, that's just plain wrong. Nobody looked at Bridgegate and said, "Who knew that Chris Christie was such a bully!" People already knew he was a bully. Being a bully wasn't a bug for him -- it was a feature. That's what people liked about him -- including, alas, many Democratic voters. Unfortunately, they like a bit of rough, too -- just as liberal New York City elected Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s to crack down on squeegee men, blue New Jersey voted for Christie twice in part to crack down on History's Greatest Monsters, teachers with union benefits.

It's true that a lot of voters thought Christie was a nice guy otherwise -- a big, emotional lug who tears up at the site of Sandy storm damage, then brings the hammer down on government employees who want pension benefits to which they're contractually entitled, all because he loves the people of New Jersey. Bridgegate didn't persuade people that Christie is a bully so much as change the notion of precisely which New Jersey residents he might go medieval on. That's not helpful to him.

But I don't see how Christie is helped by Perry's indictment. General-election voters aren't suddenly dismissing the allegations against Christie (or Walker) because they're thinking, "Look how liberal prosecutors are trying to bring down every Republican governor who is a potential president!" Ordinary Americans simply don't pay that much attention to politics this many years before a presidential election. The only people who are thinking that way are permanently enraged Fox viewers and talk radio listeners. They all vote Republican.

Within that voting bloc, who comes out the best? Perry, because he's denounced the charges against him the most strenuously. He keeps telling us that the indictment is outrageous and has no validity whatsoever. That's got to get wingnut blood pumping! Christie, by contrast, foolishly argued that Bridgegate was a bad thing, just not a bad thing that was his fault personally. He said it went on under his own nose and he was shocked, shocked, to discover it had happened. This was Christie forgetting to do any of the things his fans like about him. He should have lashed out at his accusers. He should have pounded lecterns and damned the whole thing as a Democrat/liberal witch hunt. He should, in short, have done exactly what Perry's doing now.

Jonathan Bernstein makes a better point: that the indictment hurts Perry with "Republican party actors." I'd say the legal woes of all three of these guys help Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and so on. But Perry's indictment doesn't help Christie or Walker.

Bernstein adds:
It's certainly true that resentment sells better than anything else in Republican contests....

Basically, if Perry can get this thing behind him quickly, it becomes a somewhat useful talking point for him on the campaign trail. If not, it really could be a severe problem.
I'd say that if Perry "can get this thing behind him quickly" it becomes a hugely useful talking point for him on the primary campaign trail -- a bloody shirt he can continually wave. Walker and Christie don't seem nearly as inclined to defy the investigators. That may hurt them in early 2016.

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