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Will Contrite Christie Save Combative Christie?

Governor Chris Christie’s press conference was impressive. I think he’d be well advised to remember that it was also fairly un-Christie-like. He was not the usual gruff, combative Christie we’ve come to know – the guy who tries to discourage difficult questions by making the questioner feel like a idiot for asking them.

That tactic may have caught up with him in this instance.

Emails confirm that massive September traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge and in Fort Lee were orchestrated by a top Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, and a couple of Christie appointees to the Port Authority – likely in retaliation for the Fort Lee mayor’s refusal to support Christie’s reelection bid. Christie insists these underlings were acting without his knowledge, and that he barely knows Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich. To his credit, the governor moved swiftly to fire Kelly and another aide who was implicated – the Port Authority appointees had already stepped down. Christie certainly is not acting like a boss who is worried that disgruntled scapegoats can compromise him, or that other shoes could drop that implicate him. And he managed in his presser to convey that decisiveness and air of innocence with humility and contrition. This serves him well. If there is nothing more to the story, it will help him ride out the downside he is stuck with: his failure to manage his staff competently and his creation of an office climate in which they plainly thought their political hardball was acceptable behavior.

But that is not the end of the matter, at least for now. On December 23, or a little over two weeks ago, when politely asked in a townhall-style radio forum about “Bridge-gate,” the governor was gratuitously dismissive. The Port Authority appointees complicit in the manufactured traffic jams had tried to cover their tracks by claiming the jams had been caused by a “traffic study.” So the radio host asked the obvious question: Had Christie seen the study? The governor shot back: “No. What do I care?” (This can be seen on a video the radio station has released, at about the 2 minute-mark of the 3.5 minute clip.)

He obviously should have cared about the purported cause of the problem. He should have cared even more because he also explained, during the same townhall forum (again, referring to the traffic tie-ups), “I’ve asked my staff to give me a full briefing. They’ve told me everything that we know. None of this makes sense; it’s all about politics. None of it makes sense.”