Bridgegate Exposes Pettiness, Hypocrisy of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
To put it bluntly, “Bridgegate” is a disaster for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie came to power in large part due to his image. In an era of hyperpartisanship in Washington, the idea of a no-nonsense, straight-talking moderate appealed to the people of New Jersey, especially in the the still-festering wound of Jon Corzine’s resignation in a cloud of corruption. Christie, allegedly a nonpartisan pragmatist devoted balancing the budget and cleaning up a state rife with corruption, crime and union malfeasance, seemed like the perfect cure for New Jersey’s ills. Even some Democrats jumped on the bandwagon.
Alas, over the course of his first term in office, Christie proved to be a Trojan horse for the conservative ideology prevalent in the national GOP. Granted, he was constrained by the realities of governing in a blue state, but within these constraints, he does his best to impose a conservative vision on New Jersey. He curtailed labor unions, which he used as scapegoats for New Jersey’s budget woes. His unwillingness to apply similar scrutiny to private interests, coupled with his neglect of New Jersey’s decaying infrastructure, belied his image as a reformer. Furthermore, he proved all too willing to set aside his qualms over spending when it enhanced his electoral prospects.
Despite his less appealing qualities, Christie maintained his image as a tough-minded, bipartisan reformer. His embrace of Obama following Hurricane Sandy leading up to the 2008 election, when most Republicans wouldn’t go near the president with a 50-foot pole, made him seem nonpartisan and magnanimous. This, compounded with his criticism of the congressional GOP for denying funding to states ravaged by Sandy, sent his popularity soaring, virtually guaranteeing his resounding re-election in 2013.
The “bridgegate” scandal threatens to undermine Christie’s reputation. The complicity of his staff and allies at the Port Authority in shutting down the George Washington Bridge in the district of a local official who refused to endorse him highlights his administration’s bullying tactics. Worse, this incident was only one example of a recurring trend, the details of which may now draw further scrutiny. None of this is good news for the GOP. Establishment Republicans have claimed that many skeletons in likely 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s closet would make her vulnerable to the squeaky-clean Christie. In the wake of “bridgegate,” this argument is much less convincing.
The irony of “bridgegate” is that Christie would have won the 2013 election in a landslide without the use of such risky tactics, calling to mind Nixon’s Watergate scandal way back in 1973. It seems that his administration’s desire to win by the highest possible margin for the purpose of maximizing Christie’s 2016 prospects have accomplished the opposite. Now, he is vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy and, if his claim of ignorance is true, criminality. Even if he wasn’t involved, his reputation will suffer. Christie and other Republican governors have blasted President Obama, calling him a poor administrator unequipped to handle the federal bureaucracy. However, how can a governor apparently unequipped to manage his own staff in a comparatively small state administration say he’s ready to run the country?
“Bridgegate” is especially damaging to Chris Christie because he has built his political image by relying on earning the voters’ trust as an everyman. His pugnacious condemnation of Washington will seem disingenuous if he’s just as petty and corrupt as other politicians. It’s too early to tell how damaging “bridgegate” will be to Christie’s 2016 prospects, but it is safe to say that his post-election honeymoon is at an end.