If Gov. Chris Christie had anything to do with a monster traffic jam on the nation’s busiest bridge, his presidential ambitions are likely over.
If – as he categorically declared Thursday – this act of political retribution was the work of an overzealous aide without his knowledge, Christie could still have a good shot at being the Republican nominee in 2016.
His news conference – a performance, really – put on full display why he is attractive to voters across the political spectrum. In a Field Poll released last month, the New Jersey governor was viewed far more favorably by California voters than four other potential GOP contenders. He was the only one with a positive image among Democrats and independents.
Thursday, he spoke like a normal person. He was “humiliated” by the “stupidity” of his advisers and was sad that they “betrayed” him. Even though he was “blindsided” by what happened, he apologized and took responsibility. While he held forth too long – nearly two hours – Christie answered every question, some with humor and others with passion sorely lacking in politicians.
“I am not a focus-group-tested, blow-dried candidate or governor,” he said. Many like that. But voters don’t like political bullies.
Christie has also developed that reputation – one reason why so many are ready to believe he was behind the bridge scandal.
The governor had steadfastly maintained that his staff had no involvement in the closure of two lanes of the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., into Manhattan. But emails disclosed Wednesday showed that Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who was fired Thursday by Christie, had ordered the closings to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie for re-election last November. Other emails showed close aides happy about the gridlock that delayed commuters, school buses and ambulances for four days in September.
The U.S. attorney and the legislature in New Jersey are investigating, so we should know soon enough whether Christie’s fingerprints are on this mess.
Voters often are intrigued by governors seeking national office because they are chief executives. But that means they’re accountable for all that happens on their watch – good and bad. Christie is getting a bracing reminder of that.