Politics

01.09.14

Christie Survives Bridgegate—For Now

After the mother of all press conferences, the governor got favorable reviews from the pundit class. But new investigations could sink him.

Given that we’re talking about the rough-and-tumble of New Jersey and presidential politics, it might be said that Gov. Chris Christie held the motherf----r of all press conferences on Thursday.

The entire universe of pundits and operatives was riveted on the blunt-spoken governor’s performance in Trenton, and the initial reviews were favorable. But the jury—not just in the court of public opinion but potentially in a criminal court if the Justice Department decides to pursue indictments—is still out.

The consensus is that a “sad,” “heartbroken,”  “embarrassed,” “humiliated” and “soul-searching” Christie, as he repeatedly described himself in a grueling face-to-face with local and national reporters that lasted nearly two hours, managed to keep his 2016 presidential prospects alive with an apparently heartfelt apology to the Garden State for last fall’s politically vindictive traffic tie-ups on the George Washington Bridge. 

But he will be dead meat if anything transpires in the oncoming multiple investigations to refute his repeated avowals of complete ignorance of what various high-level aides were doing to cause traffic jams and saying in gloating emails and text messages about punishing Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, N.J.—apparently for not endorsing the Republican governor.

“Christie handled about as well as he could,” Obama confidant and Democratic strategist David Axelrod tweeted—a representative slice of the conventional wisdom. “Unless smoking gun turns up tying him to scheme, or others arise, he lives 2 fight another day.”

Republican strategist Mike Murphy agreed. “I thought pretty well,” he emailed The Daily Beast when asked how Christie did.  “I think whole thing is a bit overblown re 2016…but we have to see if any more bad stuff comes out.” In a tweet, however, Murphy sounded a cautionary note: “Christie presser is a microcosm of strength and weakness of his style; v strong start, then a troubling excess of the first person singular.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza, tweeting as The Fix, pronounced: “Chris Christie did everything right today. But Bridge-gate is still a big problem for him.”

Christie managed to keep his 2016 presidential prospects alive with an apparently heartfelt apology.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato emailed The Daily Beast that Christie “was impressive; nothing threw him. He stood up to withering fire for almost two hours. That matters because partisans look for a standard-bearer that won’t wilt during the inevitable crises that engulf a campaign and, if elected, a presidency.”

But, Sabato added, the scandal is by no means over. Former Port Authority executive David Wildstein—a Christie appointee, from whom the governor took great pains to distance himself, suggesting that they barely know each other in high school and seldom mingled in recent years—“is taking the Fifth and refusing to testify,” Sabato emailed. “There are investigations to come, and possible civil action regarding the elderly woman who died because she couldn’t get to the hospital.”

Meanwhile, Sabato continued, should Christie enter the 2016 Republican nomination race, his opponents will say, “You mean you didn’t know what your own campaign manager and an aide in your inner family circle was doing? If you can’t run a governor’s office, what makes you think you can run the Oval Office, where things are infinitely more complex?” That, Sababo said, “is the script for some TV ads you’ll see in the 2016 primaries.”

Here’s a sampling of what others had to say on Twitter:

British CNN host Piers Morgan: “Christie chucking a lot of people, rightly, under the bus—but also taking full ultimate responsibility. Strong leadership.”

Noting that Christie put a heaping helping of blame on his fired deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, Michigan’s former Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm tweeted: “Biggest Q about Christie story: why did his Gov office culture allow/encourage this? Bridget Kelly=rogue? Hard to believe.”

Matt Drudge, recalling Christie’s ostentatious embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, right before the 2012 election, tweeted: “Will Obama return the favor and give Christie a rescue?”

Fox News pundit Erick Erickson tweeted: “The contrast between Barack Obama and Chris Christie in terms of owning a mess and fixing it is now pretty stark.”

Citing the flap over Benghazi, Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway drew a contrast between Christie’s apologetic stance and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, a possible opponent for the presidency: “Something Hillary could never do…she can’t be humble, apologize, take responsibility, speak fluidly.”

MSNBC host Ari Melber noted: “Weirdly, Christie says he didn’t know this mayor so he wouldn’t think to retaliate against him—rather than foreswearing retaliation itself.”

Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren reviewed the folks in the cheap seats: “media questions to Gov Christie are getting repetitive and in some instances, lame.”

New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz had a unique take on the governor’s presser. “Christie Urges Media to Focus on Weight,” he tweeted, linking to a blog in which Christie is alleged to have warned reporters, “If you know what’s good for you, your next story will be about how tubby I am.”