They’re mournful and fearful. They’re absolutely besides themselves with joy.
Those are the two key reactions as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continues to see his name pitchforked into the headlines in stories about 20 subpoenas being issued in the “Bridgegate” scandal and Christie retaining an attorney, on op-eds asking the now trite but relevant question “What the Governor know and when did he know it?” and on stories asking whether donors will still want to donate to him –and whether even Republican Governors will stick with him if it drags on and/or gets worse.
One reason for near panic: the party bigwigs who had increasingly seen Christie as someone who could beat Hillary Clinton in a presidential race (and she hasn’t announced yet) had no plan B. Which raises the issue of 2012 all over again, where it’s a free for all primary season with candidates scrambling to beat each other on the right flank and appeal to Tea Partiers and talk show hosts. Christie was considered someone who could transcend that and win a general election:
In the immediate aftermath of their emphatic defeat in 2012, the monied mega-donors and professional operatives who run the GOP took solace in what then seemed like a dazzling, diverse roster of talented politicians and outsize personalities eminently equipped to lead the party out of the wilderness.
But after a brutal year of setbacks, scandals, and political floundering capped this month by a controversy that threatens to sink New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political career, the Republican establishment is warily scanning its bruised and bloodied field of potential 2016 standard-bearers — and many of the party poobahs are on the brink of panic.
In interviews with more than a dozen party officials, fundraisers, and strategists in New York and Washington over the past 10 days, Republicans described a palpable sense of anxiety gripping the GOP establishment in the wake of Christie’s meltdown, and an emerging consensus that the once promising cast of candidates they were counting on to save the GOP from the tea party — and the nation from Hillary Clinton — is looking less formidable by the week.
Buzzfeed notes that steady deflation of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the seeming disinterest of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. And it even says some GOPers are looking nostalgically at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
who ran such a good race last time.
Now, with federal and local investigators digging into the George Washington Bridge scandal — an effort that will likely result in a subpoena for Bridget Kelly, the senior aide Christie fired for ordering the bridge closure, and the release of thousands more pages of internal documents — Christie’s supporters are bracing for the worst.
“My sense is they’re hoping against hope there aren’t more shoes to drop,” said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist with ties to the tea party who has been critical of Christie’s moderate streak. “They really want to support him… but they can’t control anything if another shoe drops.”
A Republican operative at a large super PAC used the same metaphor — a favorite among political observers at the moment — to describe the unease in the party.
“Everyone thinks there’s probably a 60% chance the other shoe will drop,” said the operative, who like many of the people quoted in this story, requested anonymity to speak freely about a situation that is still evolving. “When I saw the press conference, I said, I don’t think he’s lying… But for the deputy chief of staff to do something like that requires a culture in the office that he would have set, and it probably requires other examples that would have made her feel like that was acceptable to do.”
He added, “My gut is that they’ll probably find something else.”
Road rage aside, many Republican elites now worry that the scandal will exacerbate the challenge for Christie to make his persona translate across time zones.
Meanwhile, there is joy in Romneyland:
Rom-denfreude (noun) — The pleasure Mitt Romney loyalists are taking in the struggles of Chris Christie.
The condition is prevalent, stemming from a range of perceived Christie slights towards Romney during the 2012 campaign, which several Romney loyalists ticked off quickly — and with still-evident bitterness.
There was the New Jersey governor’s barring Romney from raising money in the Garden State, his unwillingness to answer vice presidential vetting questions and his highly autobiographical convention keynote speech. Most of all, though, Romney allies remain resentful of Christie’s embrace of President Barack Obama as the two worked together on Superstorm Sandy relief in the waning days of the campaign, which Romney backers believe boosted Obama’s bipartisan bona fides and cost Romney valuable swing votes.
Several former Romney donors and staff told POLITICO that their alumni network has been buzzing over revelations that Christie’s staff was involved in lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that caused massive traffic jams, and were allegedly politically motivated. Some view it as a vindication of Romney’s decision not to tap Christie as his running mate, while others have merely watched in amusement.
The sniping is not insignificant. Christie is not well-liked among tea party activists and leaders, where he is seen as a big-government moderate. So, in order to build a coalition that could give him a chance at the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, he’ll most likely need strong support from Republican establishment types, like those who formed the core of Romney’s formidable operation. And as the party’s last presidential nominee, his alumni network remains influential in the GOP professional and donor classes.
You can almost hear the phrase from Romneyland’s perspective: “What goes around comes around…” And some are blunter than that:
Mitt Romney’s former finance chairman definitely isn’t attending an upcoming fundraiser for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
“The guy, as a person, is horrific,” Brian Ballard, a lobbyist and former finance chairman for Mitt Romney said, according to the Miami Herald.
Ballard, a major Republican fundraiser in Florida, “resents” the New Jersey governor for effusively thanking President Barack Obama for coming to his state’s aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, according to the Herald. Ballard said former Gov. Charlie Crist has received a fair amount of criticism for being close to Obama but that doesn’t compare to Christie’s praise for the president after the hurricane.
“Charlie Crist got a lot of grief for what was called a hug of Obama. But what Christie did to Obama isn’t suitable to say in a family newspaper,” Ballard said. “I firmly believe he helped swing that election in Obama’s favor just to help himself. I busted my ass for two years raising money and supporting Romney and this guy Christie just wiped his hands of us when we were no longer useful to him.”
Taken together, you could say that even though Christie shouldn’t be counted out he has a big task if he was the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination nod: 1)come out of Bridgegate personally unscathed and be ready to explain how if he’s such a terrific hands on administration he had no idea what his aides were doing 2)protect, refaffirm and promote his brand that was hurt by the bridge scandal and, 3)win over Republicans on various parts of the GOP spectrum who despise him.
SOME OTHER VIEWS:
—The Daily Kos’ Jed Lewison:
It’s hard to argue that Christie’s troubles aren’t vindication for Romney’s decision to pass him over for the vice presidential nomination, but even if that’s the case, it doesn’t change the fact that before the bridge scandal erupted Christie was still the Republican Party’s best hope for 2016. And the pathetic thing for the GOP is that even after the scandal has become public, he still might be the best they’ve got.
–Hot Air’s (always MUST read) Allahpundit:
Not even the GOP establishment could be so badly out of tune with America that they’d consider bringing back Romneymania — I think. But the larger point, that Christie’s souring image and the fact that his lingering mutual contempt with conservatives makes him a tougher sell than thought, is apt to make country-clubbers look around for centrist alternatives now. Don’t underestimate either the lingering grudges held by prominent Romney fans towards Christie for his betrayal in 2012. Those are exactly the types of people he needs in his corner, but if you believe Politico, he’s got fences to mend himself…
Serious question: At what point do Republicans, including/especially establishment Republicans, start trying to dig up dirt on Christie? Right now it’s a feeding frenzy for Democrats and lefty media who want to knock him down before he builds up momentum for 2016. GOPers have held off (as far as we know), partly because they don’t want to weaken the new head of the RGA before he hits the fundraising trail and partly because Christie really might be their best shot to win in 2016. Besides, given his reputation for retaliation, Republicans who dislike him might hesitate to attack for fear that he’s still strong enough to absorb a blow and will remember their treachery if/when he’s the nominee. Maybe all of that changes, though, if he’s hit by another scandal. The donor class isn’t going to invest heavily in a guy who might blow up against Ted Cruz or Rand Paul; they have alternatives, starting with Jeb Bush. Even the ones who don’t dislike Christie have an incentive in knowing soon just how dirty his hands are.
—The Week’s Josh Turbush lists the GOPers utterly giddy over Christie’s problems. Go to the link to read the entire post, but here are the ones he listed:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
Romney donors blame Chris Christie for Mitt's loss and I'm just impressed they aren't blaming poor people. #lowstandards
— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) January 17, 2014
Romney fundraisers outside of the New York metro region "wouldn't touch Christie with a 10-foot pole right http://t.co/ph3ZMnFXJa NJ Ledger
— OneL (@AWiseLatina) January 17, 2014
Same media out to DESTROY Christie are still protecting Obama, Hillary from Libya. Beat up Romney for 9 days after attack.
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) January 13, 2014
Hey Christie, where's your buddy Obama right now? Gosh, it's almost like you backstabbed Romney for nothing, you sack of ………. #caring
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) January 12, 2014
admission: Romney team looks really, really smart for quickly dropping Christie from VP list.
— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) January 9, 2014
— michaelscherer (@michaelscherer) January 8, 2014
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said “20 indictments” and it should have been “20 subpoenas.” It’s the policy of The Moderate Voice to correct errors. We regret the error.
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.