Beset New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s two hour press conference on the scandal about traffic on the world’s busiest bridge being in effect sabotaged by aides: did it end in mission accomplished, or mission bungled?
The opinion is divided and Christie has enemies in both parties — conservative Republicans and Democrats — who’ll give him a thumbs down no matter what.
But there is one point of agreement: Chris Christie’s image and political “brand” will never be the same again and his already difficult task of getting the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination has now been made much harder. Since his whopping re-election victory in November, Christie has been rolling himself out as national brand. And now that brand doesn’t seem as solid or trustworthy. Was Christie involved in getting the traffic halted?
Or did he create a kind of political thug culture in his organization that made his aides feel that ham-handed political retribution was not only necessary but acceptable — and do-able. Christie has fired some aides, the U.S. Attorney is investigating, the media wants to find out more about this case and other possible cases of “bullying” — not the greatest launch of a Presidential campaign in history. Everything points to a story with “legs,” and headlines about hearings, investigations and, most likely, lawsuits.
The traffic delay meant that businessmen were delayed and could have lost money, at least one life may have been lost (but that is now questionable), some wonder if emergency services were delayed for others, commerce and life in the city of Fort Lee — the perpetrators’ retaliatory target — was disrupted, and schoolkids were late for the first day of school. It wasn’t a case of a political team jamming through something to create a better life; it was to make some people suffer.
Here’s a cross section of reaction to Christie’s press conference and a cartoon roundup:
—The Daily Kos’ founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga doesn’t think Christie’s defense that he didn’t know is inconceivable:
They thought it was fine because of the culture that Christie has created, one of intimidation and bullying. Remember that bullying incident where he screamed at the school teacher? That wasn’t caught by a rival campaign tracker. That was caught on camera by a Christie staffer, and they put that stuff online. They’re proud of that! So given that Christie once boasted that “for better or for worse, this staff will reflect my personal style of leadership and decision-making,” it shouldn’t be surprising that it reflected the worst of his personality. Or put another way, his staff didn’t go rogue.
Now, his “I didn’t know a thing” schtick, however implausible, at best paints him as a clueless dolt who can’t handle his staff—completely counter to the persona he’s built over the last several years as a hands-on in-the-trenches roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done governor. You can’t be blissfully unaware of what your top staff is doing and then claim you are deeply involved in the governing business.
But worse for him, the “bully” narrative is now set in stone. It was his greatest source of strength but now it’s been neutered. I doubt his staff will be posting any other YouTubes of him being a dick to ordinary people. Good luck with that.
Finally, notice how lonely Christie looks today? No one is defending him, not even Republicans. There are too many interests in his party vested in his failure ahead of 2016. The tea party crowd is suddenly pretending to care about Christie being a bully, as if they don’t love people who are dicks to liberals. The establishment would love to have a viable nominee, but those supporting the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are twisting the knife. The Christianist Right is similarly gleeful.
So he’s been left alone, flailing…….
—The Week’s Josh Turbush says Christie’s media “redemption” story is already underway:
Slate’s Dave Weigel picked up on the media angle early Thursday, writing, “All of those Morning Joe appearances have filled up a bank of goodwill between Christie and the press,” and that the week could very well end with “the national pundits who liked Christie before coming back to praise him.”
Christie’s biggest asset has always been his unbridled, charismatic persona. Even when sparring with reporters and yelling at teachers, he has avoided coming off as an outright jerk. For all the criticism of Christie being a bully, voters are more likely to view him as a leader and a “fighter.”
Now, the bridge story could certainly come back to haunt Christie. The U.S. Attorney’s office has said it will open a preliminary inquiry into the matter. And there’s always the chance that Christie overstated his ignorance — he claimed “no knowledge or involvement” of the payback until Wednesday — which could do him in if proof emerges directly linking him to the scandal.
For now, though, Christie has largely mitigated the damage while simultaneously flexing his perceived strengths. Christie’s presumed 2016 campaign is far from over: It’s just getting started.
No one scandal ever sinks a determined candidate. Evidence Bill Clinton after the Gennifer Flowers scandal during the 1992 presidential campaign. Clinton went on to serve two terms and later scandals only reinforced his penchant to wander. But people liked Bill Clinton. Like Christie, he was smart, pragmatic and genuine. But he also understood you attract more bees with honey and didn’t publicly embarrass people to make his point.
And that’s the crux of Christie’s problem: he says he had nothing to do with Bridgegate, and no evidence has been released to suggest otherwise. But his personal brand makes it easy to believe he was and that’s the kind of culture he developed and rewarded. And that’s the jam he needs to get out of to have a serious run at the White House.
—The Daily Beast’s Sally Kohn:
Beyond that, though, Christie spent the bulk of the press conference—including the Q&A with reporters—pondering how anyone on his team could lie to him about the incident. “I’m sick over this,” Christie said. “What did I do wrong to make these people think it was OK to lie to me?” What Christie did not ponder, however, was what he might have done to make members of his senior staff think it was okay to engage in this sort of politically motivated retributive action. Christie said he hadn’t thought about that at all.
Overall, while Christie’s comments were certainly gripping and indicative of the colorful bluntness for which he has become known—and by some voters, loved—his remarks will likely not quash the media firestorm around Bridgegate nor the pressure to find out precisely what Christie knew, when he knew it and why he didn’t know something or do something sooner.
…“I am who I am, but I’m not a bully,” Christie said in his press conference. If you have to say it, though, it’s not a good sign.
The public deserves more than Christie’s own assertions that he didn’t know anything about the reasons for these bridge closings until yesterday. Independent investigations about the facts, as well as the full extent of this scandal, must continue. But even if Christie wasn’t involved in directing this event, questions still remain about why he didn’t get to the bottom of it sooner, supposedly continuing to believe it was a “traffic study” despite the fact that media and politicians in both parties were increasingly suggesting otherwise. The New Jersey Assembly launched investigations in November. Why didn’t Christie do the same?
Add to all this that it looks like the incident didn’t just delay traffic, in at least one case emergency medical services were delayed and may have contributed to a woman’s death. Unlike all the incidents conservatives have been desperate to blow out of proportion and manufacture as massive scandals, the Christie bridge situation is a *real* scandal. And from the looks of it, one that isn’t going away anytime soon.
—The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered a bravura performance in a news conference Thursday as he attempted to get out from under a boiling controversy regarding his administration’s handling of a traffic imbroglio. But bridge-gate remains a major problem for him both now and looking ahead to a potential 2016 presidential bid…
….Here’s the problem with that tack (with the acknowledgment that given Christie’s ambition, it’s the only approach he could possibly take): If ANYTHING comes out that suggests that he had any sort of involvement in ANY way with the closures of the lanes, he is done for. He left no wiggle room for himself. None. He also insisted that this episode was anomalous in his administration — repeatedly rejecting the idea that he was a bully or fostered a bullying atmosphere within his senior staff.
The digging into every one (or at least many) of the actions taken by the Christie administration is well underway. There is an investigation in the New Jersey Assembly into bridge-gate. There are reports of a federal investigation into the matter. This is in the early stages, not the late ones, and Christie’s strong denials on Fort Lee and broader dismissal of the idea of a bullying culture mean that if incidents come to light that contradict those denials, they are even more problematic to Christie and his future than they would have been a week ago.
Christie did what he could in today’s news conference. But he didn’t solve the problem — or come close to doing so.
David Wildstein, the former Port Authority honcho who was thrown under the bus this morning during Governor Chris Christie’s press conference, has been found in contempt of the New Jersey assembly for refusing to answer simple questions about his email account and former employment. It’s a misdemeanor offense, and it’s puzzling because he does have a right against self-incrimination. But his lawyer advised him to not answer any questions whatsoever, even if honest answers were highly unlikely to pertain to any criminal activity.
Needless to say, this doesn’t look good. This is not the kind of cooperation with the investigation that Gov. Chris Christie promised in his press conference. It seems very probable that Christie knew that Wildstein would plead the fifth and, in fact, was depending on it when he made his blanket denials of fore- or after-knowledge of the criminal conspiracy that was hatched in his own office.
I am fairly certain that the Chris Christie press conference was one the worst displays of bald-faced lying that any of us have witnessed since at least the time that Anthony Weiner claimed that his Twitter account was hacked.
As for today’s presser, it’s the same sort of political Rorschach as yesterday’s scandal news was. If you like Christie (i.e. you’re center-right to center-left), you’ll likely find this a masterful show of accountability and leadership. My Twitter timeline was packed with Republicans cooing that Christie had defused the bomb, even though he spoke not a word that wasn’t fully expected of him. If you dislike Christie (i.e. you’re a liberal or a tea partier), you’re skeptical that he’s telling the truth and irritated at how easy it is for a pol to get away with something like this. I don’t dislike him the way TPers do but I’m skeptical nonetheless. I find it hard to believe that Bridget Kelly is the mastermind of a revenge operation that extended to Christie appointees in the inner circle and at the Port Authority, especially in the middle of a reelection campaign. Even if Kelly wanted to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing her boss, it’s mind-boggling to think that various members of Team Christie would have played along knowing that exposure could have jeopardized his reelection bid and presidential chances. It’s one thing for the candidate himself to be that reckless; it’s his life, after all. It’s another thing for subordinates to do it to their superior. That being so, how likely is it that Kelly, Stepien, and Wildstein would have instigated this retribution without any of them so much as mentioning it to him? They’ve briefed him on this before, at length, and no one said anything? Ever?
If you missed it last month, read this NYT piece from late December about Christie’s growing reputation for retribution against his political enemies. The best you can say in his defense is that Kelly, Stepien, et al. thought, based on what they knew of their boss, that he’d be fine with screwing Fort Lee with brutal traffic for a few days as punishment. Which makes me think this isn’t the last story we’ll hear about dubious forms of retaliation by Team Christie.
–USA Today gives 8 memorable quotes from the press conference.
–-The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky sees three possibilities after watching Christie — and two of them spell career disaster:
But it and the other incidents are certainly enough to spark a criminal—not legislative; criminal—investigation.
Then, someone will surely crack. With regard to the governor, there are not just two possibilities—that he either knew or didn’t know. There are three:
1. He’s telling the whole and complete truth in yesterday’s statement, that this was the first he’d known that the lane closings were political;
2. He was in on it from the start and helped mastermind it or at least winkingly approved it;
3. The middle position, which is that he didn’t have prior knowledge but he learned it was political some time ago—not long after it happened, say—and is now lying about having just learned.
If it’s two or three, I’d say you can forget not only his presidential ambitions. He’ll have to resign the governorship. Right? Hard to see any way around it. To have lied to your people for months about something like this, if that’s what he did, is a pretty good definition of being unfit for office.
And it must be said that it’s kind of difficult to imagine that the truth isn’t #3 or some version thereof.
First, the obvious is true: Christie has staked his credibility and his career on the claim that he knew nothing – nothing! – about any kind of political-vendetta angle to what he still insists might have been a legitimate experiment in traffic patterns. If he’s lying about his personal involvement, we’ll probably find out; if we find out, he’s done as a presidential contender, and possibly done as governor as well. Do not pass go, do not collect the G.O.P. nomination, do go directly to early retirement.
If he isn’t lying, or the lie is never revealed, this scandal is entirely survivable — from Gennifer Flowers to “Checkers,” politicians with Christie’s impressive skill set have survived far worse — but the damage is still likely to be significant. Christie presumably went into his press conference well aware of the point that my colleague Michael Barbaro made this morning, about how the story could change his image from “tough guy who fights for you” to “bully who makes you sit in traffic to punish his enemies.” But the governor’s only method of deflecting the “bully” charge was essentially to plead detachment from the workings of what he admitted was his own inner circle. And that suggests yet another problematic image flip: From a hands-on, storm-battling dealmaker to a guy who doesn’t know what kind of Nixonian fights his own aides are picking behind his back.
Now there is plenty of time for the scandal to fade, or for the script to be flipped back, before actual primary balloting begins for 2016, which is why obituaries are wildly premature. But the issue for Christie, as Jonathan Bernstein shrewdly points out, is how this effects him right now – in the “invisible primary,” the competition for donors and dollars and talent and endorsements, that will set the tone for what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire two years hence.
I’m watching Chris Christie’s mea-kinda-culpa press conference in response to the growing George Washington Bridge shutdown scandal.
And I’m hearing Chris Christie express surprise and shock and anger at the fact that his deputy chief of staff coordinated the vindictive action in order to punish a local mayor who didn’t support Christie’s re-election.
And I think Christie is missing the elephant in the room.
A man with a temperament that is infamous for being explosively angry and defensive is surprised that his staff got the message, somehow, that they strike out at people in an explosive and angry way,
I worked in the US Senate for five years as a legislative attorney. And one thing I learned early on was that, as the old (incorrect) adage goes, the fish rots from the head down. In the case of politics, every time I dealt with nice staffers, they had a nice boss. And the nasty bitter staffers? They had a nasty bitter boss. In Stevens office, where I worked, we were tenacious bordering on a tad a-holic. And guess how the boss was?
..PS: As an aside, Christie’s response to allegations that he was behind this vindictive abuse of authority is that he’s going to interview his staff again – staff that lied to him repeatedly. But that doesn’t get to the bottom of the question of whether Christie himself was behind this. Who is going to interview Gov. Christie? It might just be the US Attorney.
Perhaps it is fitting for the favorite Republican of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” but a strange thing is happening as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie weathers the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal: The GOP governor is finding support from liberals, while being abandoned by conservatives.
“Obama set the tone for his staff and IRS,” conservative editor Erick Erickson — a frequent ally of conservatives under attack from the media – wrote on Twitter. “Christie did the same in New Jersey.”
As conservative radio host Steve Deace put it, “This may be the rare time conservatives cheer on MSNBC and other liberal media outlets as they down a (alleged) Republican.”
Meanwhile, David Axelrod, another “Morning Joe” favorite and longtime Democratic political adviser to President Barack Obama, said Thursday he thinks the New Jersey Republican governor will survive the scandal….
Buzzfeed reported Thursday that Democratic mayors in New Jersey who endorsed Christie’s re-election are also defending Christie.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) faced the music Thursday following the revelation that members of his administration had been involved in lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last year.
But while he hit all the necessary notes — apologizing to the people of New Jersey, announcing he’d fired members of his staff and claiming the ultimate responsibility for what happened — Christie routinely slipped into moments of cognitive dissonance and rhetorical flubs that suggested the scandal has left the governor at least slightly shaken.
…The marathon presser lasted so long that by its end, the Fort Lee mayor had already responded to something Christie said at the beginning of the event. Christie had announced that he planned to visit Fort Lee later in the day, but the mayor told the governor to keep away.
With questions about his management swirling, Christie seemed intent on taking every question, offering endless answers, in a surreal display of political theatre.
TRENTON (The Borowitz Report)—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie lashed out at the media today, saying that it had “failed to focus on the single most important issue regarding me, which is my weight.”
At a press conference in Trenton, Christie yelled at a room full of reporters, accusing them of doing the public a disservice by not devoting all of their coverage of him to the issue of his body mass.
“How much I’ve weighed in the past, how much I weigh now, and how much I’m eating—that’s all you clowns should be writing about,” he yelled. “Anything else is just a distraction.”
Adopting a threatening tone, Christie told the reporters, “If you know what’s good for you, your next story will be about how tubby I am.”
Sean Hannity praises Chris Christie's handling of bridge scandal: "I think it was a pretty ballsy move."
— Angelo Carusone (@GoAngelo) January 10, 2014
A class-action lawsuit has been filed against NJ Gov. Christie and others related to the bridge scandal. http://t.co/hsr0iw62pt
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) January 10, 2014
Krauthammer: #Christie now 'hostage to the truth' over bridge scandal http://t.co/GaD9i5MPiC #HeardOnFox
— Fox News (@FoxNews) January 10, 2014
Lindsey Graham Calls Christie a 'Bully,' Quickly Backtracks and Says Christie 'Impressed' Him http://t.co/RAx9dL8kSR
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) January 10, 2014
–> RT @marcylauren: Christie once bragged that shutting down traffic was his "favorite thing about being Governor" – http://t.co/g2dN9mqNbh
— Sandra F. Woodward (@KySandy) January 10, 2014
Very good point. RT @KamaainaInOC: Christie gets sued within hours. Meanwhile, nothing is done to Obama and Hilary. Just disgusting!
— David Limbaugh (@DavidLimbaugh) January 10, 2014
The FBI's public corruption unit is assisting the NJ bridge scandal investigation. http://t.co/hsr0iw62pt
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) January 9, 2014
.@TNYJohnCassidy: Contrite Christie One Story Away from Oblivion http://t.co/7g7UUHTQnq
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) January 9, 2014
If Chris Christie had blocked people from entering New Jersey he’d be a hero.
— Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) January 9, 2014
Christie ensnared in a scandal dubbed “bridgegate,” & the media is having a field day-anything to distract from OCare http://t.co/gVqaLXgbr8
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) January 9, 2014
How bad is this political story for Christie? This morning’s New York Daily News cover summed up the viewpoint of many — and underscored the importance of Christie’s press conference:
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.