The disclosure of emails linking some of the governor’s top aides to a bizarre mini-scandal over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge provides opponents of the Republican presidential contender with plenty of fodder for attempts to debunk his carefully crafted image as a no-nonsense truth teller who is more interested in getting things done than in partisan bickering. Outlets like the New York Times and Politico are playing it for all it’s worth and some of those hyping the story, like Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall, who wrote today about Christie being in “big trouble,” are clearly exaggerating the magnitude of the harm to the governor in the hope that this will hasten the demise of the man who is widely believed to be the most formidable general-election candidate in the GOP stable.
But if the governor and his backers think it will all blow over without him having to seriously address the issue, they’re wrong. Christie doesn’t just need to apologize for this mess and then fire the aides who were stupid enough to openly write about their part in a foolish prank that inconvenienced thousands of New Jersey citizens in an apparent attempt to exact revenge on the mayor of the town of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Even if there is no proof that the governor personally endorsed or played a part in this mess, Christie also needs to realize that this story bolsters the attempts of his foes to portray him as a bully with a thin skin. More than the fallout from what is nothing more than a minor political dirty trick, the notion that Christie is a political thug with a style that is well-suited to New Jersey politics but not to the national stage could very well materially damage his presidential hopes.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a scandal, so much as simply throwing mud against a wall and seeing what sticks. Scandals achieve traction when they’re simple for the general public to understand — men affiliated with Nixon burglarizing a Democrat campaign office, Clinton and Monica, Obama siccing the IRS on his opponents, etc. In contrast, as Tobin goes on to note:
Of course, it’s not likely that too many voters in New Hampshire, Florida, or any other early primary state will remember the details of Bridgegate two years from now when the GOP will be choosing its next presidential nominee. It’s doubtful that many of them will understand the mechanics of bridge lane closings and Northern New Jersey traffic patterns sufficiently (something that was also apparently the case for many of those writing about the issue from near and afar) to make the story stick in their minds in a way that will doom Christie’s chances. As far as we know, nobody died as a result of the traffic jams. Nor did this involve stolen money or any of the other clichés associated with scandals that are generally fatal to politicians such as the proverbial “dead girl or live boy.”
But as we move closer to 2015, 2016, and both party’s presidential nominations, this does prove that the left will be doing their damndest to find anything to take down Christie, and any viable candidate who looks like he has a clear shot at the GOP nomination.
Or to put it another way:
Journalism 2014: Close a couple lanes of traffic = the horror! Sick IRS on political opponents, sell guns to drug cartels = phony scandals!
— Derek Hunter (@derekahunter) January 8, 2014
Update: Of course, the media’s obsession with Bridgegate today may not be an attempt to sink Christie, so much as an attempt to protect Hillary from Robert Gates’ allegations, by getting the latter story off the front page; it certainly did the trick at the Drudge Report.
More: “As far as we know, nobody died as a result of the traffic jams,” Tobin wrote at Commentary. A New Jersey news site is insinuating that a 91-year old woman died as a result of an ambulance delay “due to traffic gridlock caused by unannounced closures of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge,” to further ratchet up the anti-Christie backlash.