Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009 largely on a platform of cutting taxes, slashing bureaucracy, and bringing a new order to the thoroughly detestable state of politics in the Garden State. Putting aside the boiler plate notion that all politicians are, at some level, in the game for personal aggrandizement or the career enhancement that comes with elective office, Christie has parlayed his carefully crafted “tough-as-nails” persona into a landslide re-election victory, replete with cross-party endorsements and the inevitable presidential buzz that accompanies a man on the make.
The Christie campaign bus, with the “inevitable nominee” argument not yet fully frozen in Mitt Romney’s basement freezer, has hit quite a pothole on the approach to the George Washington Bridge. With “Bridgegate,” we get the media’s unoriginal sobriquet for any scandal involving politicians except, it seems, for President Obama. Think of the potential half-hackneyed headlines we have yet to see in print: Obamacare-gate, Fast and Furious-gate, Benghazi-gate, IRS-gate. There is an emerging narrative that because of his personality and bare knuckle brand of politics, the closing of the George Washington Bridge must be political retribution for some petty offense. Here’s the Casablanca moment that we’ve all been waiting for: politicians use the power of their office to exact influence, payback and revenge on their political opponents. Shocked, shocked!
As this “scandal” plays itself out, at least one thing is evident: Republicans are re-examining Chris Christie even before most of them outside the northeast have had a chance to examine him in the first place. Here’s a northeastern Republican’s take on the good, the bad and the ugly of Chris Christie.
The Good: Chris Christie has managed to get elected in a very blue state, defeating the well-funded and well-connected incumbent Jon Corzine. Being a Democrat dragon slayer is enough to earn a Republican of any ideological stripe a place in the forest of potential presidential timber. One needn’t look further than across the Hudson River to Rudy Giuliani, who was elected mayor in a city whose Democrat registration outnumbered Republican by a 5-to-1 ratio. Managing ungovernable municipalities seems to be a specialty of northeast Republicans (Christie, Giuliani, Romney and a slew of local officals), and in his first term Christie specialized in taking on the labor unions and pushed a tax reform agenda through the legislature. His popularity soared from his handling of Hurricane Sandy. As neighboring officials in New York struggled with gas lines and power outages, Christie emerged as the face of the recovery and clean-up effort and embraced – literally and figuratively – federal assistance and the personage of President Obama.
The Bad: Many Republicans have questioned Christie’s ideological bearings, centered around concerns over his view on immigration reform. It is important to note that this issue played a role in derailing Rick Perry’s 2012 campaign before it ever really got started, and remains the looming controversy that threatens to disrupt Republican messaging in the 2014 mid-term elections. The jury remains out as to whether or not the “Bridge-gate” scandal is enough to spoil his aspirations for higher office. As Ann Coulter has pointed out on the Geraldo Rivera and Howie Carr radio programs, it is still a little unclear as to how exactly closing a bridge constitutes political retribution for the mayor of Fort Lee’s refusal to endorse Christie in 2013.
The Ugly: Chris Christie is a man of great political talent and has shown a strong acumen for governing which, he has stated, comes as the natural result of learning how to win elections. The problem for Republicans who support Christie is that many in the party see him as next in a long line of moderates who have cobbled together impressive primary wins, only to go on and lose a general election. To his Republican critics, he is John McCain reincarnated: a media darling who, once it becomes evident that he is a serious contender for the presidency, will have the long knives drawn on him by the likes of Time magazine, ABC, and the Washington Post. The ugliness of Chris Christie lies not so much with him personally, but with what this latest scandal’s exposition of the struggle for control of the Republican party, gleefully trumpeted by the media, and cheered on by Democrats as their favorite blood sport represents. The next three years will see many more battles such as this one. As for Chris Christie, it remains to be seen if he is our kind of Republican or, with the John le Carré novel in mind, our kind of traitor.
Kyle Sabo | Hunter College | @kps427