Chris Christie has had a bad week, to put it mildly, with his staff tumbling down around him like dominoes as the details of the George Washington Bridge scandal unravels. Though the story has definitely put a good-sized dent in Christie’s armor, he won’t tumble with the others. It’s not because he has a more important position or because he’s necessarily better-liked than any of the others in New Jersey government who have been destroyed by the scandal. But, as shown in politics throughout history, a popular politician can survive in a case where mistakes are made. Additionally, an humbled, heart-felt apology for a mistake – as Christie gave - goes a long way.
You don’t have to look far to find similar examples to what Christie is going through at this time. Looking at the top of the political list, President Barack Obama is a good comparison to make. Like Christie in the past week, President Obama has been under pressure for doing things and saying things that people haven’t liked. Thus far, Obama has survived such scandals as the Benghazi scandal, the IRS scandal, the “birther” scandal, as well as minor White House-irritants such as yucking it up at Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony with his not-so-pleased spouse at his side. Of course, there are many more.
Through all of those episodes, Obama maintained a fairly-constant approval rating at or above 50 percent with the American people. In spite of some of the scandals happening before his re-election in November of 2012, he held a good standing with enough Americans to pull off a second term in office.
Eventually, however, Obama’s approval rating among the American people plummeted – below 40 percent. There was a very small window between the time when he was sporting a 52-percent rating and when he had a 38-percent rating.
The tremendous decline in approval among Americans didn’t happen until Americans truly believed he lied to them. When Obama assured the American people that they could keep their health insurance coverage and it turned out to be false, Americans felt betrayed and lied to. The polls reflected that betrayal and Americans’ refusal to be lied to by a politician.
The line between a mistake and a lie is decisive for a politician and it cannot be crossed. We Americans tend to be extremely forgiving – in fact, often too forgiving – when our leaders make mistakes, but we don’t forgive when we find we’ve been lied to by them. Just as in a serious relationship and a friendship, lying is simply not tolerated. We find we’ve been lied to and we’re pretty – for the most part - through with that person because we don’t know when we can trust him or her again. When we’re lied to, we look for other options in a relationship or a friendship. If an option is available, we take the option. In politics, there is always another option. There is always someone waiting in the wings to be elected in the liars place. So, the lying politician falls out of favor and is gone.
Chris Christie has not been caught in a lie. He made mistakes by trusting the wrong people. It’s something many politicians and many Americans have done. We forgive mistakes in time. It’s one's lies we don’t forgive.
Therefore, look for Christie to be around in politics for a good long time – maybe even as a moderate-Republican presidential candidate in 2016. No doubt, he has added another negative to his list which his critics will attack throughout the rest of his political career, but it won’t destroy him. It won’t destroy him because people who like him and his politics can forgive his mistakes in time. Again, it’s the lies politicians tell that people can’t forgive.