Bridgegate: Let's Take the Long View
The GOP Elite Will Decide His Fate
Last week, the major political story was Bridgegate, shorthand for the revelation that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's top political aides, along with his high school buddy at the Port Authority, intentionally created traffic interruptions for commuters from Fort Lee, New Jersey because their mayor had not supported Christie's re-election bid. If you need more information, you could do worse than Jon Stewart's typically trenchant and funny commentary:
But if you really want to understand the larger political implications from Bridgegate, know this: it's not about how the scandal will affect Christie's chances in 2016, it's about how it will affect Christie in the "invisible primary" that is taking place right now. The "voters" in this primary are the GOP moneymen, the party's opinion leaders and activists -- in other words, the GOP elite. These are the persons who will determine the real effect of Bridgegate, not the actual GOP primary voters most of whom aren't paying attention (and never mind the fact that it's a political eternity before most of them will actually vote in early 2016).
For example, the National Journal reports:
"His political reputation risks falling on the other side of the knife point," one senior GOP strategist said. "A reputation for being a tough-talking, no-nonsense governor is now at risk of turning into a thin-skinned politician who exacts retribution on people for even the smallest slights."
Adding to Christies's concerns should be the "oppo research" given to Romney's political team that, according to the authors of Game Change 2012, precluded Christie from VP consideration. One can dispute the "stickiness" of this research, but it's unsavory and not in line with Christie's carefully cultivated image as a straight-talking politician who speaks truth to power, and voters.
What is more, the DOJ has opened an inquiry into Bridgegate, and the FBI is not going to tolerate politco double-speak. This is a no-kidding criminal investigation. It must also be noted that Bridgegate plays into both the media's love for scandal and conflict and corruption, while reinforcing the negative stereotype that has been building in the national press for a while that Christie is a bully who will retaliate against those who cross him, even in petty ways (see Bridegate).
Some have already written Christie off. I'm not ready to go that far. But we need to watch what GOP activists and officials do vis-a-vis this story. If Christie is implicated further it will significantly erode his support about the GOP elite because his central attribute as a candidate is his electability.
If the "voters" in the invisible primary see Christie's electability sag because he knew more about the lane closures than he let on in his press conference, we will see the press, and the Democrats, hit the "corrupt New Jersey bully politician" note over and over. The longer the story stays in the press -- and note that the the more the GOP elite talks to the press, the more the story has legs -- then the self-reinforcing notion among the GOP elite will be that Christie is not a plausible presidential contender. Then, in 2016, it will seem "obvious" that Christie was never presidential timber anyways.