Chris Christie's bridge-sized headache

  • 8 January 2014
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Chris Christie speaks at a conference in Idaho in July 2011. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's presidential ambitions could be at risk

It looks like a bridge scandal is putting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in some rough water.

On Wednesday, emails revealed that one of the governor's senior staff members ordered a political appointee to close lanes of a major bridge to New York City in order to punish the mayor of a New Jersey town who refused to endorse the governor in his re-election bid.

It's the kind of obvious alleged abuse of power that would resonate with most Americans, and which could prove very damaging if it can be directly tied to Mr Christie. There is hardly anyone who doesn't know what it's like to be stuck in traffic. The claim that ordinary citizens were forced to endure additional inconveniences because a New Jersey politician (or his staff) wanted to flex political muscle is fairly inflammatory.

The Bergen County Record's website, NorthJersey.com, reports that traffic caused by the lane closures delayed emergency medical responders from reaching four patients - one of whom, a 91-year-old woman, later died at a hospital.

Mr Christie has been widely tipped as a potential frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, so the latest developments in this story quickly brought out commentators on the left and the right. The outrage (and glee) from liberals was as obvious as it was predictable.

"So petty. So vindictive. So Christie," writes the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart.

He notes that Christie cancelled the one public event on his schedule today, writing: "Like all bullies, he's running away from a real fight. And it shows that he realizes that his political standing at home and nationally is in danger."

TalkingPointsMemo's Joshua Marshall thinks Mr Christie's political future has been seriously damaged:

It's not bribery or killing someone or a high crime. But it's vindictive and quite possibly illegal. It's almost the definition of an abuse of power. It won't sink Christie. At least not the evidence so far. But it will hang around his neck forever as that bad thing Christie's operation did that supposedly (depending on whether you're a friend or enemy) tells you who the real Chris Christie is about.

The editors of the Newark, NJ, Star Ledger write that no matter how things turn out at this point, the emails prove that Mr Christie bears responsibility for the scandal.

"If it turns out he did know, he is obviously lying and unfit for office - let alone a 2016 presidential run," they write. "And even if he did not, his officials are liars. If Christie can't control them, how can we trust him as a potential future leader of our country?"

Although Mr Christie has been considered a Republican rising star, having just been re-elected by a large margin, he has often been perceived as a moderate and never has been fully embraced by the conservative base. This lack of support was reflected in the response in many conservative quarters.

"We like to judge politicians based on their policy positions, and that's the main way they should be judged," writes Paul Mirengoff on Power Line blog. "But policy positions change based on which way the wind is blowing and the nature of the office being sought. Temperament and personality don't change so easily. And they also matter."

The National Review Online's Jim Geraghty writes:

If the allegations are true, the lane closures would represent a petty and obnoxious abuse of authority, one worrisome in a potential president. Some may erroneously insist this is a display of toughness or hard-nosed political power, but the form of the vindictiveness punished Fort Lee commuters of all political stripes, not just the mayor. The state isn't given the authority to shut down road lanes as a tool for enforcing political loyalty, and it's rather shocking that this point needs to be made.

RedState blog's Erick Erickson says that he has been ambivalent about Mr Christie's potential presidential candidacy and thinks the governor wouldn't have gotten far even without the bridge controversy. The problem is that he and his staff operate "as divas".

"I have had Congressmen, Governors, and the staffers of Congressmen and Governors tell me horror stories about dealing with Christie's people," he writes. "All of them seem to dread it."

This story, like many scandals before it, may eventually blow over. Politicians in the past certainly have made it through worse. The governor came out on Wednesday afternoon with a firm statement calling the actions of his staff "completely inappropriate and unsanctioned".

If Mr Christie is to survive the coming days with his political future intact, however, he will have to move quickly and skilfully. As early commentary on this story indicates, he has enemies on the left and the right who are sharpening their knives.