Slowly, and most-assuredly the partisan-two step is beginning in the case of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political crisis involving the intentional slowing down of traffic on the world’s busiest bridge in an act of political retaliation. Christie contends he knew nothing about his aides actions and fired some highly visible ones. But when the crisis broke last week, many Republicans first remained silent. Now, increasingly — as partisasn inevitably seem to do — they are a)circling the wagons, and, b)trying to shift the focus on the abuse of power (slowing traffic) and who did it (Christie’s aides and whether everything has been answered that clears Christie) to a predictable tacit: go on the offensive against Democrats.
The questions are being asked: what about Benghazi? What about Hillary Clinton? What about the IRS? The argument is that Christie showed he’s presidential material by his 2 hour press conference.
Former Mayor Rudi Giuiliani:
“He’s held a press conference; he’s flatly denied it,” Giuliani said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If for some reason it’s not true, the man has put his political career completely at risk. If it turns out there’s some evidence that he knew about it, he’s taken a complete risk and his political career is over.”
Giuliani also invoked President Barack Obama and some of the controversies that have occurred under his administration, such as the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups that was revealed last spring.
“This has happened to many presidents, many governors, many mayors,” Giuliani said. “It’s happened to the present president at least three or four times, where he said ‘I didn’t know’ and the press says, ‘Gosh, how could you not have known?’
“He stood there for 111 minutes in an open dialogue with the press. Now, only if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would give us 111 seconds of that, would we find out some things we want to find out about Obamacare, Benghazi, The IRS.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) echoed Priebus. “I think [Christie] took the bull by the horns, held people accountable, fired people. And I think it is a very big difference than how this administration has handled things — IRS, Benghazi, you can keep your health insurance if you want it. Nobody’s been fired over that. And what we’re seeing is a big difference.” Kinzinger concluded that the scandal “may set him up for 2016.”
“This is not Watergate. This is not even the IRS targeting of last year,” said Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Member Kimberly Strassel. She then invoked a older conservative line blaming Obama for last year’s devastating budget cuts and government shutdown: “in fact, it’s not even, if you think about this as a raw display of political power, it’s not even this White House using the sequester and the shutdown to inconvenience millions of Americans to make a political point.”
“How could you not have known?,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani asked rhetorically. “How did President Obama not know about the IRS targeting right wing groups?”
Republican political maven Karl Rove, famous for turning a foe’s positive into a negative, argues this time that a negative is a positive: Christie has shown now that he is Presidential material:
During a panel segment on Fox News Sunday, host John Roberts pointed out that many Republicans were praising Christie for firing one of his top aides after a newspaper exposed his administration’s role in closing part of the busiest bridge in the world as part of political retribution plot, but President Barack Obama had not fired anyone over the health care reform law.
“I think he did himself a lot of good,” Rove said of Christie’s reaction to the scandal. “I think he did himself some good by contrasting with the normal, routine way of handing these things, which is to be evasive, to sort of trim on the edges.”
“You’ll notice we haven’t been hearing a lot from the Clinton camp about this,” he added. “Contrast both with Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton’s handling of Benghazi.”
Later in the segment, Roberts asked the panel: “Where was this media coverage on Benghazi, the NSA or the IRS?”
Columnist George Will admitted that “this was not a phony scandal” because Christie’s administration had used the machinery of government to “screw our enemies.”
“There are reasons why conservatives had disagreements with Chris Christie, I don’t think that the tea party is going to seize upon Fort Lee and the George Washington Bridge as their defining difference with Christie,” Rove opined. “In fact, I think his handling of this, being straightforward, taking action — saying, ‘I’m responsible’ — firing the people probably gives him some street cred with some tea party Republicans, who say that’s what we want in a leader, somebody who steps up and takes responsibility.”
Most notable: lingering questions about Christie’s role are left out here and the political argument is turning towards his apology, accepting it in totality (with the subtext its time to move beyond Christie’s possible role), and pointing to Democrats.
Prediction: look for this narrative now to be commonplace on conservative talk shows, conservative cable shows and conservative blogs. And look for the Christie case to morph into one more example where it’s the media, more independent Republicans, and Democrats on line side and conservatives defending Christie on the other, with conservatives working to portray that as what’s happening as some kind of a plot on those pressing for more details on what happened.
NO EVIDENCE EXISTS linking Christie directly to this. But the way our partisanship works, members of a political sports team eventually defend a member of their own political sports team (unless they do outrageous things such as sending sexting messages of themselves).
Bet the bank on it.
Unless something major comes out about Christie.
And even then it may perhaps be wise to bet the bank on it…
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.