New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s press conference was a remarkable political event, stretching beyond the 90-minute mark. The conference was filled with candid and robust apologies such as this:
We are so used to witnessing waffling, evasion and double-talk from politicians that a confession this long, detailed and emotional is entirely unexpected.
Christie described in some detail learning of e-mails between his staff about the Washington Bridge incident while in his bedroom after his workout Wednesday morning. He explained the scandal never seemed valid because he had never sought the endorsement of or even could have spotted out of a lineup the mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat. He explained that he spent all day Wednesday directly questioning his chief of staff and counsel and having them personally grill the rest of the senior staff. By 7 p.m. his long-time political adviser Bill Stepien had been asked to terminate his consultancy with the Republican Governors Association. By this morning, deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly was fired for lying to him in claiming she had no involvement with or knowledge of the episode. Christie said when he came out to deny the news reports, he unwittingly “lied.”
His words “heartbroken,” “sad,” “betrayed” and “humiliated” are not ones usually associated with Christie. He talked about soul-searching and trying to understand how people he trusted could behave this way. He said, “I’m sure I’ll get to anger but I’m not there yet.” But his blunt statement that he would never have denied and joked about the traffic study had he been involved in such “abject stupidity” was pure Christie. Moreover, again and again, he said he apologized, he was ultimately responsible and he was to blame. He said he would go to Fort Lee to apologize directly to the mayor and the residents. He took the wind out of questioner after questioner by agreeing this was awful, it is his responsibility, and it was completely beyond the pale.
If Christie’s opponents had hoped to end his political career and/or end his presidential prospects, they will need to find proof this was all a magnificently acted and delivered lie. Ironically, in elevating the scandal to front-page news, the media drew attention to the press conference, which was a tour de force. That is not to say Christie is going to be “helped” by this episode. But his reaction will help voters determine if he really is unlike other pols and really is the straight shooter he claims to be. He denied this episode proves he is a “bully,” making the argument there is a difference between bluntness (“I am who I am”) and bullying. He argued that widespread Democratic support in his reelection shows he is someone who can work with others.
In sum, Christie did everything humanly possible to clear the decks and address the mushrooming crisis. Will it be enough? That largely depends on what the U.S. attorney and New Jersey legislature find in their respective investigations. But one can’t but help notice the contrast between Christie’s response and the hide-the-ball behavior of the Obama-Clinton gang, be it in the IRS scandal, the Benghazi debacle or the “you can keep your health-care insurance” ordeals. (Or Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s painful, elongated gift scandal.) Christie is hoping that will not be lost on voters.