January 2
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie listens to a question as he announces his
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

To begin the year on a contrarian note: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, despite being declared a political “winner” of 2013 by Time magazine, National Journal and USA Today, actually had a bad year.  Yes, he won resounding reelection in an increasingly Democratic state and cemented his status as the Republican Moses, but he also planted two seemingly small seeds of difficulty that could damage his prospects outside the Garden State.

Both of Christie’s mistakes stem from the original sin in politics: arrogance. The office of governor of New Jersey is an extraordinarily powerful one: it may be the only state in the nation where there is no other statewide elected official. In New Jersey, the governor even appoints the attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcement officer. The governor doesn’t just write the state’s budget; he can amend the legislature’s version line by line, taking things out and putting things back with no further discussion. A lack of checks or balances can swell even the thinnest head. So can a fawning national press and polls that proclaim you the strongest potential Republican presidential candidate by far.

Perhaps this kind of power explains Christie’s hubris last year in changing the date of the U.S. Senate special election in New Jersey, costing taxpayers millions simply to ensure that Christie wouldn’t have the popular Cory Booker on the ballot to possibly reduce his own reelection totals. This is the kind of routine political activity that seems insignificant at the time but when examined later by voters in other states takes on a more sinister caste. One can hear the last line of the negative ad: “Chris Christie: We know what his political ambition cost New Jersey; what will it cost us?”

And never hearing “no” from anyone may explain Christie’s second mistake of 2013. There are reports, stronger today, that Christie-appointed state officials, or perhaps the governor himself, shut down lanes of the George Washington Bridge, connecting New Jersey to New York, and, in fact, the entire Interstate 95 corridor, simply to retaliate against a public official that annoyed at him.

In politics, it’s usually the little, arrogant things that do you in. Getting an expensive haircut on Air Force One in Los Angeles while frustrated travelers supposedly are forced to wait on the tarmac. Flying over hurricane damage instead of seeing it up close. Announcing, “I’m in charge” when you really aren’t and your commander in chief is in the hospital. These little things form a big impression.  And Gov. Christie left a bad one in 2013.