As New Jersey reels from a blizzard that disabled much of the state this week, two people are missing: Governor Chris Christie and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who are both on vacation out-of-state, leaving Senate President Stephen Sweeny as the interim governor. Some pundits are calling this a bit of a political faux pas for Christie, who was at Disney World while New Jersey was under a state of emergency. The question of whether it actually matters for New Jersey's ability to handle the crisis seems less controversial, with most observers conceding it doesn't make much difference. But there are two big pieces of political context: Christie's harsh rebukes of state employees and his growing national profile. Over the past month, pundits have branded Christie as an unlikely rising Republican star, a false idol for conservatives, or a viable 2012 challenger to Obama. Here's what they're saying about Disney-World-Snow-Gate 2010.
- Failure of Leadership Commentary's Jonathan Tobin takes Christie to task. "While it's true that 'snow happens,' people expect their elected leaders to be on the scene and stay there during emergencies, whether it’s a snowstorm or a terror attack," he writes. "It's not enough to be on the phone coordinating things. The symbolism of sharing the experiences of other citizens and being on hand to show concern is an important aspect of leadership. ... That comes with the territory when you choose to be governor of a state."
- Silly Non-Controversy Liberal blogger John Cole sighs, "This is like the idiotic need for our President, whoever he may be, to be wearing hip-waders while filling sand bags whenever there is a flood, etc. There are large redundant systems in place to handle the snow removal, and there is no need for Christie or Guadagno to be anywhere near the state for things to function properly. Likewise, our military isn't going to forget their mission while Obama vacations in Hawaii, and the world and the country will keep on keeping on."
- Why This Is Especially Bad for Christie "Wow, Chris Christie fumbled this one," writes Slate's David Weigel:
This is arguably a worse mistake for Christie than it would have been for any other northeast governor. Christie's year one governing strategy has been, basically, tough love for state employees. Remember the confrontation between Christie and the teacher, who complained about how hard her job was getting and got the governor to respond, "Than you don't have to do it?" Austerity works, tough love works, if it's being practiced by the guy asking for it. ... If I'm a political strategist for one of the New Jersey unions that has been roundly beaten by Christie this year, I have my opening salvo for 2011. All of this is just incomprehensible from an administration that seemed to have mastered YouTube era political optics.
- Recovery Going Fine, But Still a Political Mistake The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen concedes "the response seems to have gone fairly well," but still insists "when it comes to keeping up appearances, this doesn't look great for the New Jersey governor. The vacation scheduling was clearly a mistake; Christie bolted even after being told about the impending blizzard; he's making no effort to cut short his trip; and Democratic officials are doing all the heavy lifting (sometimes literally) while the governor enjoys some fun in the sun."
- Telling Hypocrisy from Christie Think Progress's Matthew Yglesias says "it's not the biggest deal in the world, but I do think it's telling in a small way." He explains, "You’d think a governor so eager to be filmed dressing-down sundry public employees for living high on the taxpayer’s money would be more sensitive to these problems, but he seems to have a giant blind spot when it comes to his own conduct."