To some, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a ballsy, straight-shootin', independent man-of-the-people. To others, he's an arrogant, bullying, typically self-serving politician. And now he's embroiled in a scandal which seems to be proving the latter group right. Welcome to BridgeGate.
While running for re-election this past fall Christie sought the endorsement of Fort Lee's Democratic Mayor Mark Sokoloch, a public thumbs up he eventually did not receive. In retaliation, it's alleged that top officials in the Republican governor's administration flexed its muscle last September in getting lanes closed on the George Washington Bridge to make Sokoloch's political life miserable.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, in an email to David Wildstein of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge. Wildstein also happens to be an old high school chum of Christie's.
It didn't matter that people might be sick and/or dying in ambulances stuck in that gridlock. Or that school buses full of kids might be getting to school late. "They are the children of Buono voters," Mr. Wildstein wrote, referring to Christie's Democratic opponent Barbara Buono.
This is the kind of brutal payback crap that's straight out of The Sopranos. And to many, it's no surprise. Many astute analysts have just been waiting for the Christie shoe to drop. For the myth to be shattered. For the skeletons to come crashing out of the closet. Welcome to BridgeGate.
Back in November, in his very blue state of New Jersey, Christie won a resounding victory, bringing into his big tent not just conservatives but many Democrats, independents, women, Hispanics, blacks and just about everyone else. He was immediately anointed The Great Republican Hope. The sane candidate in a sea of Tea Party crackpots. It was as if the 2016 primaries were already over and Christie was the GOP's man to challenge the likely Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
But the notion that he was a virtual shoe-in for the Republican presidential nomination was largely based on the belief that the GOP, hijacked by the Tea Party, has swung so dangerously to the right, resulting in humiliating defeat in election after election, that the party and it's voters have finally learned their lesson. The problem with that contention is that ideology and wishful thinking always trumps logic, rational thinking and pragmatism.
What got lost in all the euphoria were three critical factors. First, New Jersey is not Kansas. Or Ohio. Or Iowa. Or the Bible Belt or Rust Belt or the Plains. Like Vegas, what happens in Jersey often stays in Jersey. The big question was how this brash, outspoken, obese, larger-than-life Northeastern politician would play in middle-America.
Next, Christie's no angel. There's been much speculation over the years of impropriety on many levels, from budget chicanery to abuses of power. There's no vetting process more intense and invasive than that of a presidential candidate. Could he survive this level of scrutiny?
Lastly, Christie's big win in November meant little in terms of proving his inevitability. Two years in politics is an eternity, and an awful lot of really bad stuff can surface in that period, especially when every aspect of one's personal and public life is put under a microscope. Welcome to BridgeGate.
Was Christie ever truly a viable GOP presidential candidate? Would he be able to overcome the weight issue? The last obese U.S. president was William Howard Taft over 100 years ago... before television and YouTube.
Would Christie be able to withstand a virtually non-stop deep-dive into his closet? Would Christie's record and reputation eventually catch up with him and burst his mythical bubble?
Welcome to Bridgegate. I think we might have our answer....