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The Big, Fat Chris Christie FAQ

1:22 PM, Jan 15, 2014 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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1.) So just how bad is this George Washington Bridge traffic incident?

Chris Christie at townhall

It's bad. Pretty bad. Super bad, even. Chief executives just don't use the power of government to exact revenge on ordinary citizens for what they take to be political insubordination.

To put this in context, imagine what it would be like for a presidential administration to close down national parks in order to intentionally inflict pain on people trying to visit them. Or if some other administration had the IRS target individuals and groups from the opposing side. Thankfully, things like that never, ever happen.

2.) Wait a minute, I see what you’re doing there…

As The One likes to say, let’s be clear: I’m not doing Christie any favors by saying tu quoque and pointing to even worse scandals from Barack Hussein Obama. But I would like to echo an astute observation from John Podhoretz over the weekend:

According to Scott Whitlock of the Media Research Center, "In less than 24 hours, the three networks have devoted 17 times more coverage to a traffic scandal involving Chris Christie than they’ve allowed in the last six months to Barack Obama’s Internal Revenue Service controversy."

MSNBC is treating this like Watergate, with theories and more theories and (over at the NBC mothership) they’re talking impeachment. Democrats think this is Christmas, Winter Solstice, and Kwanzaa, all rolled into one. Which means we should expect the feeding frenzy to continue as long as is minimally plausible.

3.) This assumes that questions about Christie will only be "minimally plausible"?

Sure, for the time being. With his press conference, Christie has staked his political future on the unequivocal notion that he had nothing to do with anything that went down in Fort Lee. And either this will be born out by evidence, or it won't be.

One of Christie's big problems, of course, is that unless there's stone-cold evidence proving the negative, the left is going to try to pin this on his lapel permanently. It would be great for Christie if someone uncovered an email saying, "Whatever you do, don't tell The Boss about this stuff! He'd fire us for sure!" But one gets the sense that for Democrats, even that wouldn't be dispositive. As the kids say, this one is going on his Wikipedia page, no matter what.

(4) Okay, you make it sound pretty dire. Is Christie finished?

I doubt it, for a couple reasons.

First, this scandal elevates him in the national consciousness. Think of it as something like pre-vetting for the presidential primaries, carried out at a safe remove from the actual voting. Not only that, but it puts him on a pedestal as THE Republican Democrats are trying to take down. And if Christie was going to have trouble with conservative primary voters, having MSNBC obsessed with getting his scalp is a pretty good way to rally them.

Second, did you see his press conference? No one wants to spend two hours explaining to reporters why they're not the second coming of Richard Nixon. But if you have to spend two hours explaining why you're not the second coming of Nixon, very few politicians could do it that well.

Christie isn't just a YouTube sensation. He's an enormous political talent. People seem to have forgotten that.

5.) Wait, you mean there's more to Christie than his tough-guy "I'm on your side and won't take no guff" shtick?

Oh, yes. In fact, when tough-guy Christie emerged in 2010 on those YouTube videos, I was pretty surprised. Because the Christie I followed on the campaign trail in 2009 was a very different animal. Here's how I described him then:

The candidate talked for barely two minutes before opening the floor to questions, first from the neighbors and then from the reporters.

Christie started out emphasizing property taxes, his campaign's main focus for the home stretch.… But [he] quickly went off message. He answered questions on point, instead of turning them back to his preset theme. So, for instance, he talked seriously about state constitutional conventions, urban education, AG appointments, the state supreme court, pension overhaul, and the regulatory hell New Jersey foists on businesses. He is friendly without being cloying, charming without being smarmy. He's asking for your vote, not your love.

In short, that's the Christie who showed up at the press conference last week. And that Christie is a very compelling figure. In truth, I think he’s at least as compelling as the charismatic tough guy from the videos. And the more he’s on display, the better.

6.) Okay, so Christie has command of multiple pitches. Still, he must be doomed. Everyone says so.

Like I said up top, if it turns out he was behind the lane closures, he's toast. But assuming he's innocent, he still does face one serious structural problem going forward. Sometimes a politician has a barely-perceived flaw, a knock on them that most voters are vaguely conscious of, but choose to ignore. With Christie it's the charge that he’s a bully.

What makes the Fort Lee incident so dangerous for Christie is that it's not an instance of random corruption—it's a charge that goes directly to the heart of the big concern people have about him.

Christie may well emerge from this crisis unbowed. But he will be, I suspect, on something like probation with voters. They might be willing to accept his explanation this time, but the next instance of bullying behavior may validate their least charitable feelings about him.

So he'd better play error-free ball from here on in. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he’s capable of doing just that.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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