Christie’s “brand” implodes
The crises swirling around New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are likely to have several legal and political consquences, but there’s one consequence now, no matter how he emerges legally: the collapse of his political brand.
The montage of newspaper covers above tell the story. When have we seen such a rapid implosion of a brand? To be sure, we’ve seen the sex scandals that obliterated careers or made them punch lines. But there seem three in particular that aren’t quite the same in details, but have the same feel of a sudden collapse of a carefully nurtured image — nurtured by a politician’s aides and sustained by a cooperative media narrative:
1. Former Democratic Senator John Edwards: For all his talk, he turned out to be a blatant liar and the example of someone who’s photo literally deserves to be in the dictionary under the word “hypocrite.” He betrayed his wife, staff and so many followers who believed in him.
2. Texas Gov. Rick Perry: He came racing into the national Republican Party Presidential sweepstakes billed as a major contender, charismatic, a great campaigner and fizzled so badly that his support collapsed like a rickety fence in Texas during a tornado. His (in)famous brain freeze during a debate with the word “Oops” obliterated his imagery on the national scene.
3. Former Colorado Senator Gary Hart: considered a non-Kennedy Kennedy by many Dems, he seemed to be gathering steam in his 1988 Presidential run until he defied the media to follow him around and see if he wasn’t loyal to his staff. The media caught him with Donna Rice and he was political history. I consider this collapse the biggest parallel. It didn’t involve allegations of corruption or abuse of power. But Hart had been soaring as an up and coming Democrat, the camera loved him and he seemed to be someone destined for either the White House or a great cabinet job. He withdrew from the race, then re-entered later — and got four percent of the vote in New Hampshire. Hart went on to have a highly distinguished career as a professor, writer, author, commentator and public speaker. But the image he had when he was a rising star was gone.
What do all three of these have in common? All three politicos had personas that were created by their actions as politicians, their political positioning, their staff, and a media that covered what they saw and how people perceived these leaders. But, in the end, it turned out that the perception radically changed and they were redefined in the public mind.
Christie could theoretically survive the multi-pronged scandals that seem to have more “legs” each day. But as the old saying goes, it’s hard to get the toothpaste back in the tube and his image as a smart, effective, man-of-the-people, straight-shooter guy who didn’t play games but called it as he saw it, a hands-on manager, is gone forever.
At best, if he emerges unscathed legally, he could be perceived as a governor who didn’t have a clue what was going on with with his staff and was a hideously poor administrator. There are more questions being raised about he handled administering Hurricane Sandy relief money.
His defense so far sounds almost like “Oops.”
And news stories that are churned out on Google New aren’t positive. Just a few:
—The New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica:
No one could possibly have known at the time, when everything came to a stop on the George Washington Bridge because of a political grudge and a lie about a phony traffic study. But maybe Chris Christie’s ride to the Republican nomination for President might have gotten stopped on that bridge along with everybody else last September.
By now, you know Christie has blamed that traffic on everybody except Hillary Clinton. He said he was betrayed by members of his staff, said he was the one lied to, called staff members “stupid,” fired a couple of them.
And when he met with the media for nearly two hours one day, in a self-absorbed and rather self-pitying performance for a rough, tough guy, he wanted the whole world to believe that he was as much a victim as the people who sat on that bridge for hours because one of his staffers — Bridget Anne Kelly — had sent an email to David Wildstein of the Port Authority about how it was time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.
Clearly, David Wildstein is trying to save himself here, his own reputation. There are a lot of people who will face subpoenas in this case and you may eventually need a program like the one that people will buy at the Super Bowl to keep track of all of them. But before Wildstein has to tell his own version of things under oath, this letter comes out.
We will eventually see what kind of evidence Wildstein has, how good it is. We will eventually hear from Bridget Anne Kelly. And Bill Baroni, a young guy who was Christie’s chief of staff and was going places, maybe all the way to Washington with Chris Christie.
And you know what happens then? We find out once and for all who was stupid about traffic on the George Washington Bridge.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never put Chris Christie together again if New Jersey’s governor fails to refute the accusation that he knew of the George Washington Bridge lane closures as they were taking place.
In that event, Christie’s governorship is over and he should prepare to face a federal criminal probe as a private citizen. Resignation would be a must. Otherwise, impeachment would be a snap.
Christie stands on the brink of ruin thanks to David Wildstein, the high school pal who, as his Port Authority enforcer, ordered the closures that plunged Fort Lee into four days of gridlock.
Wildstein’s lawyer on Friday released a letter that paints Christie as one of the most bold-faced liars in modern political history. And Christie’s response, amounting to one great big dodge, did nothing to dispel the notion.
Allegations that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie lied when he said he did not know of the George Washington Bridge lane closures when they happened have moved his state’s biggest newspaper to call on him to “resign or be impeached” if the charges are true.
“Forget about the White House in 2016. The question now is whether Gov. Chris Christie can survive as governor,” the editorial board of the The Star-Ledger wrote Friday night in the wake of reports that the governor knew about the bridge closures as they were happening – and that there was evidence to prove it.
The stunning accusation came from the former Port Authority official who ordered the closures, David Wildstein, and was first reported by The New York Times and Star-Ledger.
“If this proves to be true, then the governor must resign or be impeached,” the editorial board demanded. “Because it will show that everything he said at his famous two-hour press conference was a lie. And not just a typical political lie – this was like a Broadway show of lies, and would leave Christie so drained of credibility that he could not possibly govern effectively.
“He would owe it to the people of New Jersey to step aside. And if he should refuse, then the Legislature should open impeachment hearings.”
Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University history professor who specializes in presidential politics, told Reuters that Wildstein’s allegation was “the first time a high-level official has contradicted the governor.”
The Christian Science Monitor calls it “Chris Christie’s very bad, really awful, truly terrible week:
This was the weekend when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was meant to revel in the Super Bowl, being played Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.
He’ll be there, but the clash of the football titans may not be enough to distract him from his political and perhaps legal troubles. Already under fire for a political dirty trick causing a massive traffic jam, Gov. Christie has just been hit by another load of bad news.
David Wildstein, the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official who personally ordered the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, says Christie knew about the closure at the time – which contradicts Christie’s statement that he knew nothing about the order to close the lanes as political retribution aimed at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, only learning about it in the press.
“I first found out about it after it was over,” Christie said at his Dec. 13 press conference.
Writing for Politico.com, Elizabeth Titus and Maggie Haberman put the situation this way: “Even the best-case scenario for Chris Christie isn’t pretty: It could take weeks or months to sort out new allegations that he knew more about a growing New Jersey traffic scandal than he has let on, casting an even larger pall over a man thought a few weeks ago to have a decent shot at becoming the next president.”
All of which comes down to the essential Watergate question asked 40 years ago, one which toppled a president: “What did he know and when did he know it?”
When that question is raised, if nothing else it means this:
The seeming death of a carefully cultivated political brand.