On Monday, for perhaps the first time in history, modern-day trolling will meet its old-fashioned inspiration, when the Democratic National Committee travels to the entrance of the George Washington Bridge to troll Governor Chris Christie.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the storybook troll from the fairy tale, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” That creature threatened the goats until the biggest one butted him off the bridge, never to trouble pedestrians again. Today, the term is used to describe a person—often on the Internet—who says or does something for the purpose of getting an emotional reaction. Trolls aren’t necessarily contrarians or bullies; they just gratuitously poke at the world, trying to make someone, anyone, snap.
Which brings us to the current fable. Once upon a time, in early September 2013, access lanes to the GWB in the Hudson River town of Fort Lee were closed, without warning or explanation. The closures paralyzed traffic in the area, to the extent that emergency responders were said to have been forced to attend to incidents on foot.
To get to the bottom of what happened, the New Jersey Transportation Committee began subpoenaing documents from the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York, which controls the bridge. In January, it was revealed that the lane closures were ordered—seemingly with the intention of wreaking traffic hell on Fort Lee—by a top official in Christie's cabinet. Thus, "Bridgegate" was born, and Christie's political career has been in recovery ever since.
Christie apologized, fired his offending staffers, commissioned an internal investigation (which was exorbitantly expensive and ridiculous, to be fair) and has, mostly, successfully moved forward – much to the dismay of Democrats, for whom a weakened Christie meant a better shot at the White House in 2016. Christie, with his Jersey Boy charm and willingness to butt heads when necessary, has long been a threat to the left wing. His political skills are Clintonesque, and he appeals not just to his fellow Republicans, but to the working class, who are so blinded by the power of his personality that they cannot see his policies. Because of that, after neglecting to run in 2012, he was seen as the obvious front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination this time around.
Bridgegate was supposed to change all that. But despite an expensive and drawn out investigation by Garden State lawmakers, no evidence has emerged to suggest that Christie even knew about the plot to close the lanes, let alone orchestrated it. And although investigations by the U.S. Attorneys in NJ and NY are ongoing, at least politically, the scandal seems to have mostly blown over.
So, Democrats are trolling.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, New Jersey Democratic Chair John Currey, and Assemblywoman and candidate for Congress, Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, will appear at Fort Lee Historic Park, the scene of the (so-far-not-legally) crime, on Monday, where they will reminisce about the good old days of Christie being dead in the water beneath the bridge.
“We’ll just be highlighting what’s happened over the last year,” Michael Czin, a spokesman for the DNC, told The Daily Beast. “Exactly a year ago, Chris Christie was hitting the final stretch of his reelection campaign. ... He was saying, ‘I’m the guy who can get things done, and work across party lines.’ ... Bridgegate showed not only gross misconduct on one end, but it showed his inability to work across party lines.”
Then, Czin said, “We still don’t know why it happened.”
But it shows his inability to work across party lines. I guess.
Bridgegate, the DNC knows, punctured the bubble from within which Christie ran his governorship—the one that protected him from any meaningful criticism of his record. Until Bridgegate, the national media and Christie were in a love affair that no amount of sinking jobs numbers or economic downgrades could interfere with. So on Monday, the DNC will use the anniversary to highlight Christie’s record on pension reform (it’s not going great) and the economy (not so hot either).
“The DNC doesn’t need to do this to embarrass itself,” Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, a former Christie rival, told The Daily Beast. “But if the best they can come up with against [Chris Christie] is that one of the people he appointed to an independent agency thought reallocating lanes was a good idea, he should start measuring curtains in the Oval Office.”
Carroll is one of the members of the legislative committee investigating Christie. As I outlined in July the committee, stacked with Democrats despite a few Republican members, has uncovered approximately nothing damaging to Christie. But it has succeeded in keeping its Democratic members on cable television and the story of the Bridgegate scandal on the minds of many—not that it’s had much impact in New Jersey. Almost half of registered Garden State voters still view the governor favorably, and even if his reputation as a bully has been somewhat bolstered by the scandal, even more voters now view him as a “fighter.”
Christie’s office did not have any comment about Monday’s event. Why would they?
Schultz will, presumably, stand at a podium and say that Christie is not the leader he claimed to be, and Bridgegate is a perfect example of that, even though they don’t know what actually happened. But that doesn’t matter, because his whole record sucks.
She will beat the dead traffic jam to a small group of reporters, including me, and then we will all go home, some stories will be written about the Big Production at the Bridge, and Christie will continue to ignore the whole thing.
Schultz’s presence in the Garden State, Carroll argued, would actually benefit state Republicans: “I strongly encourage her to spend as much time in NJ as possible. ... The more she talks, the better the GOP should do.”
Now that’s trolling.