What Wildstein Fleeing a Sinking S.S. Christie Means for GOP

02/03/2014 12:23 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 2014
  • Ryan Campbell Editor at DRM Capitol Group, Media Manager @DRMAction

"Evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference." With those words, Wildstein became the first rat to flee the sinking S.S. Christie, looking to make a deal. The Port Authority had cut off his legal aid, leaving him on the hook for his own legal defense in a high profile case, a recipe for desperation that creates space for a plea bargain. As if #Bridgegate weren't bad enough, he also has to contend with the potentially more serious Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's accusations that Sandy aid was being tied arbitrarily to approvals for private development contractors tied to the Christie Administration. All this is destroying Christ Christie as one of the biggest political power centers in the GOP, and damaging his narrative even if he is able to weather the short-term storm. This will have deep consequences, as Christie was an early favorite for 2016, and the closest thing to a strong, national, centrist voice within the GOP.

At the Assembly Transportation Committee Hearing on the George Washington Bridge lane closure, Wildstein's attorney all but blurted that they wanted immunity. Considering how he resigned right away, it seems as though Wildstein was expecting to be brought to task professionally. It does not, however, seem that he was planning on being brought in front of committees: he folded fast enough to get whacked in most decent mob films. With Wildstein publicly cracking fast, others may want to race to the best deal offered while it's still good, before the case solidifies against everyone else and the prosecutor no longer feels the need to offer deals.

One of the reasons the GOP has not strongly supported Christie is because they knew that another shoe could drop. An enterprising and ambitious politician would realize there's one of two directions to run in this situation: 1) support Christie, knowing that he would remember who helped him when he was down if he rebounded, and 2) abandon Christie like a gangrenous limb to be hacked off before primaries, and make sure you're not standing behind him when he falls. The scandal has gotten too much press time, and Christie has gone too far out on a limb saying he's innocent to politically survive being proven false.

Now is the time that having friends would pay dividends, however, Christie is known for being gruff and making enemies. With Wildstein seeming to have proof that the accusations on the bridge scandal could be true, Christie's stock is plummeting, and dumping Christie is becoming far more attractive that helping him.

Aside from the George Washington Bridge story is Christie's Hoboken troubles. Mayor Zimmer's accusations broke recently on Steve Kornacki's Up, that she was approached by the Christie Administration and told that Sandy money would be contingent upon her approval for a private developer's project. This could be much more damning for Christie than the bridge scandal ever was: Chris Christie made his national profile on his hands-on approach to immediate storm relief, hugging Obama in what would become an iconic fleece. Despite GOP criticism, he threw himself behind the president's support of New Jersey at the time.

Any attack to his integrity as the one who cuts through the politics on Sandy aid, such as playing aggressive, small-game politics with Sandy aid for the benefit of private developers, goes to the very core of what made him a household name in the first place. Exactly these sort of attacks have been forthcoming, as Hoboken, a town that suffered much of the Sandy damage, was awarded a fraction of the Sandy aid money set aside by the federal government that other towns, far less damaged than Hoboken, received. As mayors in New Jersey begin to look at the sort of Sandy aid they were offered in relation to their damages, investigations have been launched.

In addition to all the previously mentioned damage, all of this makes Christie look like a thug. For most politicians this would be bad, but for Christie, who has been criticized for being thuggish to an extreme flaw, this will affect everything: every time he goes in to be forceful as his style of governing requires him to be, he will look like a bully. At the same time, if Christie stops governing forcefully, he loses his in-your-face to get things done reputation that can cut across political divides, and loses the biggest asset he would have going into a national election.

All the while, Christie's tough-guy approach to governing has not earned him the sort of friends that support you through a scandal. Now that the sharks are circling, his opponents like Ted Cruz are openly criticizing him, more people (i.e. Mayor Zimmer, who stayed quiet before the bridge scandal) feel secure in coming out against Christie and they find more media willing to get their story out to a broader audience.

What all of this in combination does is officially make Chris Christie the first politician to flame out of the primaries under national scrutiny, much like Michelle Bachmann, Donald Trump, Herman Cain and the rest. In a way, the presidential race never ended as speculation, which has seemed to creep further back each year, began the day after the November 2012 election. While Christie played it cool, not publicly speculating on 2016, the speculation came to him, and the local thug politics his office had been playing didn't do so well under the national microscope.

Christie's current situation further destabilizes the GOP. While Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) openly celebrate Christie's poor fortunes, they are nowhere near close enough to the political center to attract Independents: they belong in the clown car primary of 2012. Currently, the GOP struggles to find a central leader to build an identity around, a struggle it has had since November 2012 shattered their perceptions. Without Christie, the GOP leadership role for someone who could feasibly be elected president is once again up for grabs, and the party will let the spotlight drift until such a figure emerges.