New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is not out of the woods yet, but the worst of the bridge scandal may be behind him. Since his dramatic press conference last week he has been rather fortunate.
Moderates and party insiders, as well as a number of prominent conservative pundits, have praised his performance and/or argued that this won’t knock him out of the 2016 race. On the Sunday talk shows, name Republicans including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rudy Giuliani and Republican National Committee chief Reince Priebus stuck by him. The sole exception was the sanctimonious Rick Santorum, who recited the talking point that voters judge a candidate by the people he hires and with whom he associates. (The Clintons, however, don’t seem to have been harmed by the Whitewater, campaign finance and Clinton Foundation scandals in which Clinton friends, operatives, associates and employees fell under scrutiny and, in some cases, were indicted or convicted.
But a familiar dynamic kicked in with the omnipresent coverage and the media hyperventilation: Conservatives recoiled. When the Nation and MSNBC start in on Christie, “Meet the Press’s” David Gregory begins badgering Priebus and Clinton veterans of scandals hector, the natural inclination on the right is to push back.
The hypocrisy, after all, is stupefying. A “culture” of bullying exists, we are told in New Jersey, but not in the IRS. Christie must prove the negative (he knew nothing) while the White House gets an instantaneous good housekeeping award of the IRS scandal. Christie has to pinpoint to the hour when he first heard about the scandal; we still don’t know what President Obama was doing on the night of the Benghazi attack. Christie committed a grievous sin by not figuring out a cabal of aides were planning an insanely stupid prank, but who could imagine that the president would know jihadists had taken over Libya, his attorney general was spying on reporters and the IRS was targeting taxpayers? (If state tax authorities had given special scrutiny to liberal groups the way the IRS selected conservative ones, Christie would no longer be in office.)
Christie is also helped by the abject dumbness of the plot. As Christie supporters have pointed out to me, Christie was on his way to winning big in his race. The Fort Lee mayor was never on his radar for an endorsement. And Christie actually won that Democratic town anyway. Really, who thinks it worth it to play hard ball with one obscure mayor at the cost of aggravating thousands of voters in a traffic spectacle so enormous that it would draw instant coverage?
Christie is also helped by the feigned cluelessness of the media. They are shocked, just shocked, to learn that there is politics going on in New Jersey — that Christie’s team rewarded friends with posts and accesses and couldn’t make time for opponents. The horror! Next thing you know, presidents will be appointing donors to ambassadorships, giving the Medal of Freedom to celebrity backers and returning endorsements with political help and support.
But, say the critics, what about the vindictiveness, the score-keeping and the favoritism? Yes, it would be horrible if a pol had “a list drawn up by campaign aides that noted the lawmakers . . . who staffers believed had betrayed” the candidate. Oh, wait. That was Hillary Clinton. The Hill publishes an excerpt from the upcoming book by a Hill and a Politico reporter:
We wanted to have a record of who endorsed us and who didn’t,” said a member of Hillary’s campaign team, “and of those who endorsed us, who went the extra mile and who was just kind of there. And of those who didn’t endorse us, those who understandably didn’t endorse us because they are [Congressional Black Caucus] members or Illinois members. And then, of course, those who endorsed him but really should have been with her … that burned her.”
For Hillary, whose loss was not the end of her political career, the spreadsheet was a necessity of modern political warfare, an improvement on what old-school politicians called a favor file. It meant that when asks rolled in, she and Bill would have at their fingertips all the information needed to make a quick decision—including extenuating, mitigating, and amplifying factors—so that friends could be rewarded and enemies punished.
Is Clinton to be disqualified from the presidential race? (In seriousness, this is one more example of Clinton’s own weaknesses rendering her less capable of taking on her most formidable opponents.
The exaggerated outrage, the attempt to criminalize common politics and the blind eye turned toward the Obama and Clinton scandal-thons tend to infuriate Republicans. Those right-wingers who pile on, as Santorum did, run the risk of being branded as enablers and allies of the MSM. They are, of course. Had Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) or even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker been accused of the same sort of wrongdoing, they’d be the first to wrap their arms around the wronged Republican. Opportunistically latching on to a MSM-driven frenzy is not likely to go over well with Republicans.
As for the voters, Christie is most concerned about the mainstream Republicans, hoping the Full Monty apology, media overkill and demonstration that (unlike McCain and/or Mitt Romney) Christie isn’t going to “play nice” with the press and political opponents will be sufficient, even endearing him to voters. Christie will also have to demonstrate that he can govern in a media firestorm. If the media and Christie critics keep it up, his task will be less arduous. (Remember the Republicans and Clinton’s impeachment?) Those wanting to bury Christie might be smarter to dial it back some, but they just can’t help themselves.