While it may seem like overkill to some (I mean, how many people really watch MSNBC?), one immediate effect has been to reassure donors. A Christie supporter in the room with him on Saturday tells me there were “zero” questions about the bridge, and donors offered great encouragement and pledged to help him and the Republican Governors Association. On Sunday, news reports indicate he raised the topic and was impressive. But these are people already favorably disposed toward Christie.
The true test, aside from whether anything else comes out to contradict his denials (in which case he’ll be toast), is how donors and voters who haven’t made up their mind or may be skeptical about him react. Interestingly, Christie suggested, “I don’t know exactly what it is yet that I’ll learn from it. But when I get the whole story and really try to understand what’s going on here, I know I’m going to learn things.”
I’d suggest he’s already learned a few things, as should other Republicans, even without knowing the details of what occurred beyond what he has already said. A Republican has to engage, almost overwhelm, the MSM to get his side of things out there. He has to act quickly, before news cycle after news cycle gets habituated to the false attack. You have to take even (especially?) false perceptions (“bully,” “RINO”) seriously. False tropes, nevertheless, set expectations. Texas Gov. Rick Perry will have to be sparkling in debates to live down his 2012 performances. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will have to go out of his way to make an emotional connection with voters, since the rap (I guess it’s a bad thing in politics these days) on him is that he’s too wonky. In Christie’s case it means defining his record as conservative based on the content of his policies (including tax cuts, Planned Parenthood defunding, etc.) and convincing voters that his bipartisanship and policies (e.g. drug reform) are more like tough love than bullying.
If nothing else, a whole lot of voters have gotten to see Christie in recent days, and he has gotten a test run on media smears that will come in handy in the election. We’ll have to wait to see whether this was the beginning of a successful transition from gubernatorial to presidential candidate, or the beginning of the end of what was a hugely promising political career.