I suppose that, as a former elected public official of the great State of New Jersey, I should have something enlightening to say about the Chris Christie/George Washington Bridge scandal. And, yes, it has hit the point of being a scandal. The facts are now unassailable—several of Christie’s aides and political appointees essentially conspired to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge and bring massive inconvenience (and worse) to the city of Fort Lee, New Jersey, as political payback against the mayor of the city. The mayor is a Democrat who refused to endorse Christie’s re-election bid. There may be more to come, of course—sometimes these things go nowhere, but sometimes they take on a life of their own and keep rolling along. Political scandals are hard to predict, and even harder to control.
Booman, essential blogger, grew up in New Jersey, and has some useful insights, as usual. Booman has not been unsympathetic to Christie in the past—especially over Christie’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy. But now he thinks he should resign. Well, of course he should, but of course he won’t. Republicans only resign these days after they’re indicted, not before, and I suspect we won’t be seeing those in the near future—well, for Christie’s aides, maybe, but not for Christie himself. Christie claims that he is “outraged” by the recent emails. Of course he is—he’s outraged that they weren’t scrubbed a long time ago. Imagine having to put up with such incompetence.
So what everyone wants to know is whether this hurts or helps Christie’s chances for the Republican Presidential nomination, for which Christie is currently leading in the polls, as if this were in any way meaningful. Well, maybe it will help. Christie’s reputation as a bully who likes to intimidate and threaten people certainly hasn’t hurt him to date, and the Tea Party crowd might even like it, if they can get past Christie’s support for the Dream Act, which they probably won’t. But it’s not like this will help him in the general election. Someone apparently died because of the political machinations of Christie’s team, whether or not Christie knew about it. In true New Jersey fashion, state pols aren’t about to let that go un-noticed. Nor will anyone campaigning against Christie. He now has a built-in permanent liability that he will have to work hard to overcome, if he even can. It’s not impossible, of course. David Vitter got himself re-elected, after all—but no one died as a result of his screwing around. This may be different.
But this is the way, still, politics is often played in New Jersey. Is it different from, say, Wyoming? Of course it is. New Jersey’s reputation for political malfeasance is, sadly, well-deserved. It rewards hustlers especially, and Christie is, at bottom, a hustler who has perfected the art of being loud. But there’s a certain kind of craft to this as well, as I learned living in Rhode Island—another den of political iniquity where corruption is embedded in the political fabric of the state. There’s an art to it, in fact, which pols in the northeast have perfected, since they’ve had the time to perfect it in a way that pols in the west, for example, have not. Sometimes this works in our favour—would Nancy Pelosi have been nearly as effective if she hadn’t grown up in the cauldron of Baltimore politics? Probably not. Sometimes it’s irrelevant—Bill Bradley was a fine man, unscathed by Jersey issues, but a largely useless senator and a disastrous presidential candidate.
Politics is knowing how to get stuff done–both good stuff and bad stuff, when necessary. Christie’s people were pretty good at it, except for the getting caught part. One way to measure how useless the current political leadership in Congress is is simply to ponder how different the world would be if Christie, not Boehner or McConnell, had been in charge of Congressional Republicans over the past year. Whatever Christie’s faults, and these are legion, he’s a Jersey guy, which means some degree of being able to get stuff done—your people expect this. This may be the reason that Christie up to now has outpolled other Republicans in the Presidential sweepstakes—he’s not in Congress, where the art of doing nothing is gradually being perfected. He’s a governor of a state where stuff actually does get done.
But even Jersey guys have their limits, and Christie may have run up against his.