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Will Contrite Christie Save Combative Christie?

The radio moderator of the town hall did not wilt under Christie’s back-of-the-hand, “What do I care?” response. He firmly pointed out that, if there had actually been a legitimate traffic study and Christie had seen it, that would do much to lay the controversy to rest. Christie peremptorily waved him off, saying, “No … because they’d find something else.” Translation: It’s all politics, and if my critics were not complaining about this, they’d find some other trifle to inflate into a scandal.

This is peculiar. We are talking about a guy who was first elected governor by portraying himself as a hard-charging, no-nonsense prosecutor who knew how to ask tough questions and get to the bottom of things. In this case, he did not get to the bottom of a straightforward matter involving his own staff and trusted officials he appointed to the Port Authority. The “traffic study” was said to be the root of the controversy … so why wouldn’t it be included in the “full briefing” he demanded of his staff … and why would he take the position that it was so utterly unimportant and beside the point?

The governor waved the whole controversy off as crude politics. But that suggests it was sheer invention – which, quite obviously, it was not. There really were days of horrific traffic jams. An elderly woman really did die – although whether that was actually caused by the traffic jams’ preventing emergency medical personnel from getting to her is far from clear, to say nothing of the ineffable Lawrence O’Donnell’s claim that the deceased will be “the Willie Horton of Chris Christie’s presidential campaign.” There really was a debacle here. Even if Christie sincerely believed that his people were uninvolved and that the exploitation of the debacle by his detractors was a manufactured political scandal, the scandal was clearly not woven out of whole cloth.

If Christie was given a full briefing about the traffic jams, he must have been satisfied that he’d been fully informed about what caused them. And if the explanation that satisfied him was that the tie-ups were all the result of a “traffic study,” how could it be that he wasn’t shown the traffic study? If it wasn’t shown to him in the “full briefing,” why did he not ask to see it? Why didn’t he press his staffers and Port Authority appointees on why the “study” was continued after the first hours or day of monstrous traffic tie-ups?

And why would he bluntly dismiss entirely reasonable questions, posed by a radio moderator on behalf of an audience of New Jersey residents, about whether he had seen the “traffic study”? Christie’s gruffness is part of his persona and it has its place. But a lot of times, it is out of place. This was one of those times.