Gov. Chris Christie is in extreme damage-control mode, apologizing to constituents and asking forgiveness for the dunderheaded shenanigans of some of his closest staffers. He is desperate to evade a growing reputation as a political bully that could scuttle his chance to become the Republican nominee for president in 2016.
As revealed by a series of email exchanges, three of Christie’s top aides closed down all but one of the traffic lanes at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge to punish the Democratic mayor in the nearby town of Fort Lee, who failed to fall in line behind the Republican governor in his recent reelection campaign. New Jersey commuters spent days stalled at the bottleneck, emergency vehicles were slowed down and one elderly woman died before she could be taken to a hospital.
In a two-hour news conference, Christie claimed he knew nothing about the scheme to exact political retribution by manufacturing a traffic nightmare. The three staffers have been booted, and the governor insists that he is shocked and saddened by their actions. Nevertheless, many people are skeptical. Even if Christie is telling the truth and the aides were not following his direct orders, his combative, in-your-face political style makes plenty of people assume the three were mimicking the bullying ways of their boss.
Though he has played the victim a bit too much, Christie has handled the crisis well so far. Chances are, he will survive this round of revelations (unless, of course, it turns out he is lying, in which case he can probably kiss the GOP nomination goodbye). But the media are now primed to leap at any instance, from the past or in the future, of Christie slipping from hardball politics to bean-ball tactics.
Christie has methodically built great political currency among conservatives who would like to see a tough guy as president, but his belligerent bravado could backfire. Muscular leadership is one thing, but not many voters want to give the reins of power to a bully.