Governor Chris Christie has learned the hard way that conservatives have not forgotten the distance he put between them and himself.
Many of the most prominent voices in conservative media have not defended Christie during the past week and, in fact, have taken the chance to remind him of his alliance with President Obama.
The silence (or, worse, criticism) from the right has placed Governor Christie in the unenviable position of being attacked from all sides. MSNBC has been merciless in attacking the governor, adopting the bridge scandal early on and covering it daily with elaborate theories of other reasons Christie’s staff may have wanted political retribution in Fort Lee. Just this week, Chris Hayes hosted a one-hour special dedicated to unraveling the story behind the scandal that led to four-hour traffic delays on the first week of school last year.
The odd part of this story is not that MSNBC is going wall-to-wall on a scandal plaguing a Republican governor. It’s that the conservative media isn’t responding to those attacks with any particular rigor, and in some cases is even agreeing that this does not bode well at all for the current 2016 presidential race frontrunner.
Opinions on the right range from “bad, but not as bad as Benghazi” to “we knew we couldn’t trust Christie.”
Rush Limbaugh argued on his radio show that the bridge scandal may or may not affect the 2016 race and he was, “like everyone,” merely watching it unfold. No matter the harm done, he argued, it would be “[f]ar, far, far less than walking arm in arm with Barack Obama one week before the 2012 election when you did the keynote for Romney at the convention and you didn’t really do that well.”
On the Lars Larson Show, Ann Coulter – once upon a time Christie’s biggest fan – agreed that there was something seedy about being “kinda bitchy to his fellow Republicans while sucking up to Democrats.” She found it “hard to believe that staffers would do this” without his consent, and noted that, even if Christie was innocent, she was happy to celebrate that the scandal was “harming a governor that is ferociously for amnesty.”
Mark Levin also chimed in with similar reservations about Christie that were greater than Bridgegate: “The Republican Party needs to be looking for real leaders and statesmen, and he is not one of them.” Levin added that Christie’s press conference “reminded me of his dear, close friend Barack Obama.”
Worse, these are the conservatives that are going easy on Christie over the bridge scandal.
Erick Erickson of RedState.com wrote for Fox News that Christie was simply an outright “jerk.” He claimed that, through word-of-mouth “horror stories” from those who interact with them, Christie “and his staff operate as divas.” The potential of Christie’s having caused such a traffic disaster for political retribution, even if not true, feeds into that already existing narrative.
Also on Fox News, longtime supporter Eric Bolling notes that, while he once approved highly of Christie, “it wouldn’t surprise me” if Christie had indeed engaged in this vindictive behavior because he is a “tough guy,” and that “attitude is what drew me to him in the first place.” Bolling writes with more disappointment than outrage that “he cannot have one shred of evidence tying him to the bridge closings or I believe he is finished politically. Finished in New Jersey and certainly finished on the national stage.”
On Fox News Sunday, George Will attacked the proposition that Bridgegate was a “phony scandal.” Christie, he notes, used “the federal machinery of government to screw our enemy,” if the accusations are true, and that is as big a deal as anything in Watergate. Will did add that “nothing matters at this point” regarding the 2016 race, so the scandal in his eyes diminished a frontrunner position that would not actually affect the race two years from now.
Over at the National Review, Andrew McCarthy was more skeptical than most that Christie was not involved in the scandal because of a previous situation in which Christie fired an employee for lying to him – former Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler, who was in charge of the state’s education programs. Beyond that, McCarthy found the internal process of review that Christie seems to have proposed – just fire the people who lied to you – as insufficient. “If we were not talking about government,” he argues, “if such corruption had occurred at a private corporation, prosecutors would have expected the company to have launched a searching internal investigation at the first scent of wrongdoing.”
Only establishment Republicans with the rockiest relationship with conservatives seem to be standing up for Christie. Karl Rove is paramount among them. To Rove, the scandal offers Christie “Tea Party street cred,” and his effusive apologies during his press conference make Republicans say “that’s what we want in a leader.” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus agreed in a statement to MSNBC.com: “Governor Christie did the right thing and demonstrated what leaders do when actions of the team are unacceptable and wrong,” he said, taking a swing at President Obama for not doing the same.
So Christie is not without his defenders, but the defenders are increasingly fewer and less conservative. His State of the State speech Tuesday, in which he once again accepted responsibility without taking or announcing any actions related to the scandal, will likely do little to shift the dial of public opinion either way. He is going it alone from here on out, but he must have expected that on the first day President Obama landed in New Jersey to survey the damage from Hurricane Sandy.