Rumors of Chris Christie's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The idea that his involvement in a bridge-closure scandal will end his political career deserves a healthy dose of skepticism.
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Eric Thayer/Reuters

It's a bad day for Chris Christie. Like, even worse than stuck-in-traffic-for-hours-trying-to-get-over-the-bridge bad. But let's not overstate it.

The New Jersey governor has been tangentially involved in a scandal over the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and New York. The bridge is run by a bi-state agency, the Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey, and David Wildstein, a Christie-appointed Port Authority official violated protocol last fall by suddenly shutting down lanes of traffic on the bridge. Wildstein resigned last month. Christie has long denied accusations that the closure was political, but records obtained by the Bergen Record show that a top Christie aide ordered the closure—apparently as retribution against Fort Lee, the borough on the Jersey side of the bridge whose mayor had made the mistake of not endorsing Christie for reelection. Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly wrote: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Other materials in the records show banter of the mustache-twirling-villain variety. In one passage, Wildstein and an unidentified correspondent texted and joked about Barbara Buono, the Democrat whom Christie routed in November, and school buses:

Person: Is it wrong that I’m smiling

Wildstein: No

Person: I feel badly about the kids
I guess

Wildstein: They are the children of Buono voters

Clearly, heads will roll in Trenton. Not only will Christie have to fire people close to him, he may well have to admit the closure was political, despite what he said before. It's a big black eye. And what's more, it plays into an emerging theme about Christie: that he's a bully prone to petty acts of retribution.

But there's a long way from that to the glee of some liberal journalists, who herald this as the end of a formidable GOP presidential candidate. Their wishful thinking is even causing them to break their own rules, as Jamelle Bouie admits: "For as much as I try to avoid big pronouncements about someone’s political future, it’s hard to see how Christie recovers from this." Jon Chait's argument seems to be that the accretion of small scandals will eventually combine into enough to take Christie down.

Perhaps this will be the end of Christie's career, but it's hard to see how anyone can tell at this point, and there are several reasonable, and equally speculative, reasons this may blow over. Here we have a regional dispute that—contra Chait—is fairly arcane for non-locals: He closed down a few but not all lanes of a bridge that managed by a bi-state agency? Huh?. Iowans probably care even less for B&T folks than Manhattanites. Everyone already knows Christie is a bully, and it's hard to see how many more people this will convince. And most important of all, there are almost exactly two years until the Iowa caucuses.

This perhaps tongue-in-cheek tweet from Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal is unintentionally revealing:

Since there's no chance that a GOP governor with several scandals in his past that have reached top aides could ever remain a presidential contender, especially if he's frequently accused of being a bully, then clearly the Wisconsin Republican is set to benefit. Wait, never mind—that perfectly describes Scott Walker, too!

Christie isn't invulnerable, as Chait notes: He's an establishment-friendly northeastern Republican with moderate views on some issues. But the voters whom Bridgegate will scare away are different from the ones who abhor deviations from Tea Party orthodoxy. It's probably wise to wait for further revelations—the sort that personally implicate Christie, or have people talking about resignation—or particularly vertiginous polling drops before writing the governor off. Especially since he apparently doesn't take kindly to those who turn their backs on him.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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