Revisionism, which takes at least a generation in the study of history, is much more rapid in politics. It’s fast, sometimes in the same news cycle. Consider New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. His bridge follies were considered his comeuppance, justice for his arrogance and a sign that his team lacked the experience necessary for his stature as the Republican candidate for president. In other words, overnight Christie transformed from post-partisan icon to typical Jersey pol. But that story-line was just settling in when a new one has emerged: Christie’s troubles with the bridge are not (insert traffic metaphor here) a detour in his political rise, but rather an opportunity to burnish his suspect conservative credentials.
Chris Cillizza and Roger Simon argue that Christie is cleverly using the scandal to show conservatives he is firmly in their camp. Christie’s approach, according to these observers: attack the “liberal media” (in this case, MSNBC) and point out that he is a victim of a partisan witch hunt. While it is certainly a familiar conservative tactic, it won’t work. Chris Christie’s brand, before it hit (insert traffic metaphor here) a speed bump was about being a different kind of Republican. Yes, that may have made his road to the nomination rocky, but he need only look at Mitt Romney to see what happens when a moderate tries to reinvent himself as an arch-conservative to kow-tow to the Republican right. Indeed, not only was Christie smart not to reinvent himself, he realized that being a post-partisan figure was the key to his success. He wanted to be seen as someone who put the job before politics, who could work with others, who was practical. Not only would this image help him in the general election, where he would be seen as a different kind of Republican, but it could even help in the primaries where he would get credit for standing for his beliefs. Moreover, the fundraising base in the Republican Party, at least the less ideological part of it, knows it can’t nominate a right-wing candidate and/or a lightweight. Candidates such as Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum are too extreme; Marco Rubio, too light; and Rand Paul, a little too out-there. Thus, Christie’s front-runner status. Cross-over appeal is the heart of Christie’s allure. This explains why Christie, unlike most Republicans, appeared regularly on MSNBC, the network his office now decries. Whoops! Hypocrisy is very political and the antithesis of Christie’s waning brand strength.