Clash of the Titans

01.15.14

Clintons v. Christie: Equals in Thuggery?

A Hillary ‘Hit List’? Sounds a lot like the way Christie plays ball. Except there’s no evidence at all that Clinton did anything to anyone.

Let’s say Chris Christie survives the bridge scandal and does go on to become the 2016 GOP nominee. It’s looking less likely, but let’s just say it for the sake of this column. And let’s say he does end up facing Hillary Clinton. A clash of titans. A death-match of icons. And most of all, given what we’ve just learned about Christie and what we’ve known about the Clintons for 20 years, a squaring off of two of the most ruthless political machines of our time. Right?

That’s what a lot of political journalists are going to write and a lot of hosts are going to scream on TV. And maybe it’s a just harmless way to get people not to change the channel. But let’s take a look at these mighty, terrible machines. We’ll see some important differences.

It turns out, according to a new book excerpted in Politico, that two Clinton aides kept an enemies list, comprised of the pols whom the Clintons had helped over the years who then went off and endorsed Barack Obama. The Clintons seethed, plotting their revenge. They, you see, will stop at nothing. You know the story, you’ve been hearing it for two decades.

There is a small problem, however, which is that the Politico excerpt, overheated as it is in certain passages, can’t muster a single allegation that the Clintons ever did anything with this list beyond read it. Actually, it doesn’t even assert that. So this whole list business may have been limited to aides. In any case nowhere does the excerpt allege that the Clintons ever tried to do political harm to anyone who crossed them.

The worst offender by their lights was Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. Bill and Hillary had supported her strongly in 2006 (as had Obama). But during that year, McCaskill said something on Meet the Press about keeping Bill away from her daughter.

The Clintons were steamed. And what did they do about it? Oh, the horror. Bill was “gracious” to McCaskill during a phone call, according to the story. As for Hillary, McCaskill tried to avoid even having to run into her in the Senate, but eventually Hillary scheduled a lunch and was sweetness itself. When McCaskill endorsed Obama, the Clintons were hurt and felt betrayed, but the article offers no evidence that anybody lifted a finger to try to visit harm upon McCaskill’s career in any way.

On and on the article goes, listing various slights the Clintons endured as first this one and then that one whom they’d helped over the years endorsed Obama, and as the Clintons go on to do…exactly nothing to any of these people. So beyond two aides keeping a list, and the Clintons feeling (understandably) miffed at this and that pol, not a thing actually happened. Yet the story is headlined “Hillary’s Hit List,” which is clearly meant to do a lot of heavy sinister implying, and this idea that “she” “kept” such a list is going to become mixed in to the cement of the conventional wisdom.

I’ve never heard anything like these Christie stories. And I covered Rudy Giuliani!

Well, you might say, they weren’t in a position to screw people over. What about when Bill was governor? Oh, there were lots of allegations. I sat with some of the allegers and listened to their stories, at the Minute Man burger joint down in Little Rock, eating a number four hickory smoke, about all these heinous things the Clintons were doing to their political enemies. I don’t know of one that’s been proven to be true.

Now let’s turn our attentions to Trenton. As we’ve learned over the last few days, Chris Christie may not have an official enemies list, but he sure has enemies, and he and his staff don’t stop at making sure the enemy him or herself pays a price for crossing the great man. They make sure his or her constituents do. The heavily Democratic residents of Ft. Lee and the “children of Buono voters” trying to get to school those four September days can tell you that.

And if you’re not up to speed on the jaw-dropping events surrounding the mayor of Jersey City, well, chum, acquaint yourself. In a nutshell, when Jersey City mayor-elect Steve Fulop was being courted for an endorsement by Christie’s staff, he was getting more text messages and emails offering help than he could answer. But once he told the governor’s people that he wouldn’t be endorsing Christie (Fulop is a Democrat), four Christie commissioners canceled meetings with the mayor—within an hour. Others followed shortly thereafter. So at first, endless benefits were set to flow to the citizens of Jersey City. Then, because their mayor decided that he was going to take the crazy step of endorsing the gubernatorial candidate of his own party, that spigot was abruptly turned off, those citizens denied.

Now that’s ruthlessness. And no, everybody doesn’t behave this way. Your typical pol might pull one small to medium-sized grant of some kind, just to let ’em know who’s boss. Or build that new jail or senior center in the next town over. But I’ve been at this a long time now, and I’ve never heard anything like these Christie stories. And I covered Rudy Giuliani!

The Clintons, in contrast, have been comparatively mild. And yet, if we do end up getting a Clinton-Christie race, we’re going to get along with it a lot of media nonsense about how equally brutal these machines are. “Do the Democrats want the political baggage that comes with handing their party back over to the Clintons?” is going to be, indeed is already, a motif in the coverage. What exactly was that baggage? Largely, a bunch of crazy allegations that amounted to nothing (and, yes, Monica). But the media are going to be intent on pulling the Clintons down to Christie’s level—although fortunately, Christie may have already taken himself down to a level that even media sensationalism can’t conjure.