After swiftly dismissing a top official in his administration, Chris Christie was characteristically caustic when pressed by the press for the lesson to be drawn from the scandal: “Don’t lie to the governor.”
But that was then — three years ago. This week, the raging bull turned sad puppy for two hours of bravura contrition after cashiering yet another top aide who, he says, lied to him. It is a different time, and this is a very different scandal. Yet, I can’t help suspecting it’s the same old Christie.
Back in 2010, it was Bret Schundler, Christie’s education chief, who was shown the door after purportedly deceiving the boss. The controversy that led to Schundler’s abrupt termination was considerably drier than the “Bridgegate” scandal currently engulfing the governor — the former was just run-of-the-mill governmental bungling, as the Bergen Record relates.
New Jersey had failed to qualify for federal “Race to the Top” education funds, falling a measly three points short of the 500-point threshold prescribed by an abstruse Washington formula. The amount of money involved was enormous, $400 million. But in a country where trillion is the new billion, that’s a few digits shy of grabbing the public’s attention. Plus, Christie — just hitting his stride, his eccentric brand of tough-guy bipartisanship not yet stale — was not then a national figure. So the fact that the Garden State lost out because its application omitted two years of budget data (a five-point penalty!) was big news in Trenton, but nowhere else.
This past September’s bumper-to-bumper snarls are quite another matter. They hit New Jerseyans where we live much of the time: on our derrieres, behind the wheel hours on end, crawling tortoise-like from place to place — especially when one of those places is the Big Apple. So the ongoing scandal is about traffic . . . but, of course, it’s juicier than that. It’s about hellacious traffic jams that were willfully manufactured — much as that may sound like a coals-to-Newcastle errand. It’s about Christie’s administration maliciously slamming already beleaguered commuters — and, worse, subjecting police, fire departments, emergency medical teams, school buses, and small-business merchants to withering gridlock — as payback against at least one recalcitrant Democratic mayor.
In public, the notorious Christie wrath is usually reserved for tea-party conservatives, for those who don’t share his soft spot for Islamic supremacists, and for the stray insolent teachers’-union rep — because, well, who doesn’t enjoy watching that? Playing nicely with Democrats is a big part of the governor’s shtick. So why was Mr. Bipartisan — or, at least, his closest aides — harassing Democrats behind the scenes? After all, he was already cruising to a reelection romp — ultimately crushing his hapless opponent by 22 points.
Team Christie was in harassment mode because the governor is already running for president and sees his Mr. Bipartisan brand as the ticket to the White House: the lone earnest pol who can bridge the poisonous partisan divide. His hug-fest with Barack Obama as the 2012 election headed toward the wire was a good start, but it would be nicely complemented by a blowout win in a blue-blue state and a bandwagon teeming with as many Christie-crats as possible — “Christie-crat” being an epithet the Left affixes to Dems who work closely with the governor, a rough Jersey analogue of “RINO.”
Read the rest of the story at National Review Online.