Joe Gandelman: Don’t count Christie out (yet)
People waiting to get New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s last pound of flesh may have a long wait, and not for the obvious reason.
Many pundits considered Christie a prime contender for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, even though he’s despised by many conservatives who vow to fight him all the way. But then it came out that some of his top aides were involved in creating massive traffic back-ups to punish a Democratic mayor. “Buh-bye” to four Christie loyalists who were fired or resigned. “Hiya” to the term “Bridgegate” and a two-hour Christie-on-the-defensive press conference that those sympathetic to him found masterful and those who don’t like him found phony.
But is the power abuse stench enough to sink him? A Poll by the Pew Research Center found that more people focused on cold weather and a tepid economy than Christie, and most said the scandal hadn’t changed their opinion of him. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza flatly says Christie remains the “best positioned to build the coalition of major donors, party activists and GOP elites necessary to win the nomination.”
In his column on The Moderate Voice, veteran journalist Shaun Mullen argues that 2016 is a long way off — and the GOP desperately needs Christie:
“I continue to believe that while Teahadists are powerful beyond their numbers, they have painted the party into an ideological corner that pretty much guarantees increasing national irrelevance,” Mullen wrote. “While the stars might have to be aligned just so for Christie to get the Republican nomination, only he is capable of giving [Hillary] Clinton a run for her money. This is because many of the policies and points of view the governor espouses are in sync with voters in general, if not right-wing Republicans, including those all-important Independent women. These include gun control, immigration reform, Medicaid expansion, gay rights and, yes, good old fashioned compromising.”
Things to watch:
1. Will there be a smoking gun? Richard Nixon would likely have remained in office — if you lived through the times you can recall how steadfastly he was defended by Republicans until they realized there was absolutely no defense left —if he hadn’t installed the taping system or if the tapes had been erased. No solid smoking gun means Christie may still have some baggage to carry if he wants to get a huge number of independent voters and some Democrats to vote for him in a general election, but he’s still in the running.
But he’s increasingly on shaky ground. He had insisted in his press conference that he hadn’t seen David Wildstein, the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive who ordered the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September, in a “long, long time, well before the election.” Then the Wall Street Journal published an article showing photos of him standing next to the resigned official on Sept. 11 — the third day of the bridge lane closures. Not good for Christie’s narrative — or branding as a straight shooter.
2. Will he move to the right? Some analysts claim Christie got “creds” with Tea Partiers due to the bridge incident and his assertive press conference. While some establishment-type center-right Republicans defend him, he could have to move to the right to try and thwart or win over far-right conservatives who don’t want him on the ticket.
3. Will the press find material to keep the story alive? Contrary to what conservatives think, journalists and editors don’t get in touch with each other, rub their hands with delight and conspire to do stories. They try to answer unanswered questions in stories. Every time a Christie assertion is proven wrong, it’ll prolong the bigger story.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States.