Dogged by his Bridgegate scandal, 51-year-old New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie returned to the national stage since his infamous Jan. 9 press conference denying any involvement. Coming out swinging at the press, Christie struck a familiar theme for GOP politicians under-the-gun, blaming the media for political woes. Instead of addressing allegations that he ordered his 42-year-old former Chief-of-Staff Bridget Kelly to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting his reelection, Christie blamed the media for spreading spurious rumors about him. Speaking for only 15 minutes, Christie encouraged the GOP to “take on” the mesdia. “We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for,” Christie told delegates at the Conservative Political Action Committee three-day meeting in suburban Washington.
Not a single principal player in the Bridgegate scandal, including Kelly, his Port Authority appointee David Wildstein, former campaign manager Bill Stepien or anyone else has talked to the media or answered questions on depositions from New Jersey select committee Chairman Rep. John Wisniewski or U.S. Atty. Paul Fishman. With the blackout and stonewalling complete, Christie tries to sell himself to delegates that he’s still the GOP’s best hope for the White House in 2016. “The fact is, we’ve got to take these guys on directly,” Christie insisted, making his case that he’s still viable for 2016. Diverting attention from Bridgegate to telling Party leaders a way forward, Christie insisted they need to “start talking about what we’re for and no what we’re against.” Laying low since the New York Times broke Bridggate Jan. 8, Christie wasn’t his usual feisty self speaking to delegates.
Selling himself as the GOP’s future, Christie stop short of flat-out telling conservatives that he’s their man in 2016. “Please, let us come out of here resolved no only to stand for our principles, but let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again,” said Christie, pointing to himself as the best option. Knowing that Tea Party favorites Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Fl.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) all talk-the-talk more than Christie, the clever New Jersey governor sought to preempt their speeches. What Christie hasn’t told CPAC delegates is that his ongoing legal battles make him radioactive when it comes to national office. Christie’s poll numbers in face-to-face match-ups with presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton plummeted, leaving him clearly damaged by the Bridgegate scandal.
Preaching to the conservative choir, Christie still inspires the base, not because he spews conservative values but because he looks like a nationally appealing candidate for the beleaguered GOP. While today’s Washington Post-ABC poll showed that only 33% of Republicans now support Christie’s bid for national office, he still knows how to throw conservatives red meat. With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) banging away at Obama’s “feckless” foreign policy in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea, nothing makes the GOP happier than ripping the president. Not all Republicans are infatuated with Christie. Virginia-based conservative activist John Bloom carried a sign calling Christie “Gov. Traffic Jam.” Before the Bridgegate scandal hit the headlines, Christie was the heir-apparent to the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Stonewalling the entire investigation, Christie insists he knew nothing about what happened Aug. 9-13 when suddenly access lanes to the GW Bridge were closed, causing massive gridlock into Fort Lee. Christie told a national TV audience at a hastily called Jan. 9 press conference that he thought the lane closing were part of a “routine traffic study.” Insisting that he’d been stabbed in the back by his former chief-of-staff, the two-term governor’s story lacked plausible deniability. While no one’s heard from Kelly or any other principals in Bridgegate, Christie insisted she ordered the lane closing without his knowledge or approval. Those that have known and worked with Kelly over the years found Christie’s story incredulous. Those that know Christie’s imperious management style also find it inconceivable that Christie would let something like that happen under his nose.
Christie’s speech to the CPAC hoped to rally conservatives to his defense, passing the allegations as concocted by the liberal media. “Most conservatives, whether Chris Christie is their favorite candidate or not, frankly feel compelled to reject those what are going after him for political motives,” said American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas. Giving Christie as chance to sell himself to conservatives, CPAC can’t stop ongoing investigations about Christie’s role in the Bridgegate flap. Keeping all material witnesses from speaking publicly won’t stop investigations from finding out who ordered the GW Bridge closings or other charges by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer who alleges Christie withheld Hurricane Sandy funds to gain approval for a business development project. Without more facts coming out about Bridgegate, conservatives won’t jump on the Christie bandwagon.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.