Conservatives on Chris Christie: Diva Getting What He Deserves

Rudy Guiliani’s adviser: ‘You’re going to see conservatives returning the favor he gave them over the last year.’

National Journal
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Josh Kraushaar
Jan. 9, 2014, 8:59 a.m.

Chris Christie took the first step in dam­age con­trol Thursday by apo­lo­giz­ing and an­noun­cing he was fir­ing two of his closest aides con­nec­ted to a scheme to jam up traffic on the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge.  But des­pite a text­book press con­fer­ence, his longer-term polit­ic­al prob­lem is likely to be from his own party, where the scan­dal is giv­ing a le­gion of un­der-the-radar Christie skep­tics room to cri­ti­cize the gov­ernor.

Christie’s base has al­ways been his New Jer­sey in­ner circle and Wall Street donors en­thused over his elect­ab­il­ity and prag­mat­ic ap­proach to gov­ernance. By con­trast, Christie nev­er en­gendered deep sup­port among Wash­ing­ton GOP in­siders ““- no sur­prise, giv­en his routine slams at Con­gress — and, more im­port­antly, among skep­tic­al con­ser­vat­ives who be­lieve he’s in polit­ics more for self in­terest than prin­ciple.  Con­ser­vat­ives have been dis­ap­poin­ted with him ever since his ca­marader­ie with Pres­id­ent Obama in the wake of Hur­ricane Sandy and his pub­lic cri­tiques of the tea party.

Re­pub­lic­an me­dia strategist Rick Wilson, who worked on Rudy Gi­uliani’s 2008 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, ar­gued that Christie “goes out of his way to be a dick to oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans” — and will reap the pay­back if his for­tunes start to head south.

 “You’re go­ing to see con­ser­vat­ives re­turn­ing the fa­vor he gave them over the last year. There’s no love lost between Chris Christie and con­ser­vat­ives. I don’t ex­pect them to be in love with him, and he doesn’t want their love,” said Wilson.  “But if you want to win a GOP primary, you bet­ter find a way to get there.” 

Wilson ad­ded the scan­dal threatens to tar­nish Christie’s luster with pro­spect­ive donors be­cause “they don’t like scan­dals, and this makes him look like at best he lost con­trol of his or­gan­iz­a­tion.”

The oth­er factor that fueled the Christie boom­let throughout 2013 was a per­cep­tion that he’s  the most elect­able Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate.  Poll after poll showed him run­ning neck-and-neck with Hil­lary Clin­ton in hy­po­thet­ic­al 2016 match­ups, while every oth­er con­tender pos­ted medicore fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings.  His broad cam­paign co­ali­tion, win­ning over His­pan­ics and wo­men, was viewed as a mod­el for suc­cess­ful na­tion­al can­did­ates to emu­late.  If Christie’s sky-high pop­ular­ity be­gins to fray, he loses the very as­sets that pro­pelled him in­to the na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion.

Christie’s epic press con­fer­ence per­form­ance il­lus­trated what’s made him such a com­pel­ling polit­ic­al fig­ure, while also il­lus­trat­ing po­ten­tial risks to his ap­proach.  He im­me­di­ately took re­spons­ib­il­ity for his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions, apo­lo­gized, and canned mem­bers of his in­ner circle.  But he also was self-in­dul­gent, tak­ing ques­tions for nearly two hours, giv­ing re­port­ers and crit­ics plenty of ma­ter­i­al to work with to ex­am­ine any in­con­sist­en­cies.  He made a smart polit­ic­al move in im­me­di­ately fir­ing deputy chief of staff Brid­get Anne Kelly, who wrote the most of­fend­ing e-mails, and de­mot­ing close long­time polit­ic­al aide Bill Step­i­en. But the speed of the fir­ings also shows he’s will­ing to do any­thing to pro­tect No. 1.

The gen­er­al con­sensus among GOP strategists is that Christie was mas­ter­ful in his crisis man­age­ment, sur­viv­ing the ini­tial scru­tiny with a char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally ef­fect­ive press con­fer­ence.   But if any rev­el­a­tions emerge that he was less than truth­ful about what he knew, any pres­id­en­tial talk could be­come kaput.  Un­like Pres­id­ent Obama, who faced his own prob­lems with dam­age con­trol last year, the loy­alty to­wards Christie doesn’t run deep with­in the party.

“If he can get past this, that same Christie will be able to make a mark and a good im­pres­sion with voters in a primary de­bate.  He per­forms well on the big stage. But get­ting there will be a pro­cess. No one press con­fer­ence or one event will put this to rest,” said former Rom­ney com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or Kev­in Mad­den.

In an art­icle head­lined “The Polit­ics of A-Holes,” con­ser­vat­ive Red­ ed­it­or Er­ick Er­ick­son wrote Wed­nes­day: “There’s more here and it is go­ing to be the prob­lem that haunts Chris Christie. I’m am­bi­val­ent on his run for the Pres­id­ency. But I don’t see him get­ting that far for the very reas­ons un­der­ly­ing this is­sue — he and his staff op­er­ate as di­vas.”

Ad­ded one GOP strategist: “He has got­ten way, way ahead of his sup­ply lines in terms of na­tion­al ex­pos­ure.  His straight talk repu­ta­tion now runs the risk of slip­ping in­to a bad place where voters grow tired of his style and this kind of drama.”