Traffic On The Road To The White House

Christie responds to the bridge scandal:

What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.

Ezra reacts to the story:

It’s entirely possible that Christie didn’t know very much about the bridge episode. It might just be the product of the culture he’s created, or permitted, to arise around him. What’s dangerous for Christie, though, is that now every political reporter in the country will begin believing rumors of his punishments and hunting down evidence of his retaliation. And things Christie was able to do before to wide applause — like berate a schoolteacher and then have his staff upload it to YouTube — will begin feeding a very different kind of narrative.

Ambers weighs in:

The fact that Christie’s deputy chief of staff believed it was morally permissible to cause pain to innocents in order to retaliate against a perceived slight, without seeking his permission, and then refused to own up to it, tells us something about the culture that Christie creates around him. She assumed the boss would be okay with what she did. And so did many other Christie advisers, including his campaign manager. And since Christie denied having anything to do with the bridge study, he apparently has fostered a culture where it’s okay to lie to the boss in order to protect him.

Sean Davis expects the revelations to seriously damage Christie:

Most people understand that politics ain’t beanbag. There’s a certain amount of rough-and-tumble, back-and-forth backbiting that’s expected from the kind of people who choose to spend their lives trying to accumulate as much power as possible. As a result, backroom maneuvering to remove some political privileges enjoyed by one’s opponent probably wouldn’t draw a second glance. But that’s not what Christie’s top aides did. They deliberately chose to target innocent civilians:  moms and dads trying to get to work on time, school bus drivers trying to get children to school, first responders trying to take ill people to the hospital.

It doesn’t matter who you are:  that type of behavior is inexcusable. Nobody likes the guy who intentionally abuses his power in order to indiscriminately punish people just trying to get through the day.

Barro’s related remarks:

One of the key raps on Christie is that he’s a “bully” and that he engages in naked power politics. That rap hasn’t hurt him with voters — until now — because they perceived Christie as bullying people who deserved to be bullied and using strong-arm political tactics to make New Jersey’s government work better. Christie’s governing style led to bipartisan agreements on budgets and employee benefits reform, and the targets of his ire were unpopular: teachers’ unions and distrusted municipal officials.

But now we’re seeing an example of Christie’s team doling out punishment in a way that was both incompetent and petty. This isn’t just about the Christie administration engaging in unseemly retributive politics; it’s about them being bad at it.

Chait sticks a fork in Christie:

Mitt Romney managed to win the GOP nomination in 2012 despite some ideological vulnerabilities — smaller ones than Christie’s, I’d argue — because he was the sole electable candidate in a field lacking any plausible alternatives. The 2016 field already looks to have several plausible Republican contenders. Christie’s path to victory always involved a desperate-to-win party Establishment circling around him. Why would they circle around a candidate teeming with corruption scandals, when they could instead nominate a more conservative alternative with a more attractive personal image? What reason, at this point, does any Republican have to nominate Christie?

David Graham pushes back:

Perhaps this will be the end of Christie’s career, but it’s hard to see how anyone can tell at this point, and there are several reasonable, and equally speculative, reasons this may blow over. Here we have a regional dispute that—contra Chait—is fairly arcane for non-locals: He closed down a few but not all lanes of a bridge that managed by a bi-state agency? Huh?. Iowans probably care even less for B&T folks than Manhattanites. Everyone already knows Christie is a bully, and it’s hard to see how many more people this will convince. And most important of all, there are almost exactly two years until the Iowa caucuses.

Nyhan’s view:

On the one hand, it’s important not to overhype the significance of events like this to ordinary voters, very few of whom are paying close attention to the jockeying among potential 2016 candidates. The problem for Christie is that his principal asset in a Republican primary is an aura of electability. That aura may now start to dissipate along with his previously impressive favorable/unfavorable ratings, which were already looking more like those of a conventional politician. Moreover, widespread coverage of the bridge controversy could renew fears among elites about other potential skeletons in his closet and embolden GOP rivals and operatives who oppose his candidacy. Research by political scientists suggests that those party elites play a critical role in choosing the party’s nominee. If Christie is not seen as the most electable candidate, he’s unlikely to get much traction given his previous ideological heterodoxies.

Erick Erickson calls the intentional traffic jam on the Jersey bridge “routine hardball politics that Republicans and Democrats alike engage in at the local level”:

But there’s more here and it is going to be the problem that haunts Chris Christie. I’m ambivalent on his run for the Presidency. But I don’t see him getting that far for the very reasons underlying this issue — he and his staff operate as divas. I have had Congressmen, Governors, and the staffers of Congressmen and Governors tell me horror stories about dealing with Christie’s people. All of them seem to dread it.

Larison expects the scandal to blow over:

The pathetic thing about all this is that it will probably have little or no effect on Christie’s presidential ambitions. Many people are already declaring that this marks the demise of a future Christie campaign, but I have a feeling that the story will be received very differently inside the GOP than it is by everyone else. It will probably be treated as a political “hit” by hostile media, and partisans will begin dutifully repeating claims that the story isn’t that important, or that it’s old news, or that it is irrelevant to the state/country’s real problems. That seems likely because that is what partisans usually do when one of their party’s stars is accused of some wrongdoing.

Ramesh’s take:

I think Christie is going to have to do something more to get some distance from this scandal (and not just for the Serbian- and Croatian-American votes). If he does, I think this is just a blip for his 2016 campaign.

Alec MacGillis joins in the speculation:

I don’t believe this is necessarily the end of Christie’s presidential hopes, as Jonathan Chait argues—I am constitutionally averse to making predictions pro or con prospects with three years to go until the Iowa caucuses. And I’d also caution against overstating the facts at hand here: Christie’s people did not “close the George Washington Bridge,” as some reports are now suggesting—they shifted two of Fort Lee’s three rush-hour access lanes to the main flow of Interstate 95 traffic, thus causing horrific backups in Fort Lee but easing the main flow onto the bridge from I-95. It was, in that regard, a devious surgical strike.

But, we now know, too devious for its own good. There is something going down today—and it’s Chris Christie’s standing in the field of 2016 contenders.

Finally, Josh Marshall points out that these actions were completely unnecessary:

All year last year it was clear that Christie was set for a massive win. So just think how needless this was. Whether he did it or his aides did, this was an effort to get a Democratic mayor to endorse him. A Democratic mayor. No one expects members of the opposite party to endorse you, though many did.

Now, there’s some sense in which Christie didn’t just want and need to win. His 2016 presidential strategy rested on racking up a big number, somewhat along the line that George W. Bush did in his second term as Governor of Texas. And this even more so in a blue state. But at the end of the day, just in the crassest and most cynical terms, there was simply no reason to do this.