Chris Christie did about as well as he could, given the circumstances. All he can do now is wait, and hope it passes without many more revelations.
That was the sentiment coming from people who wanted to offer support to the Republican governor of New Jersey, a man whose sky-high political stock took a hit in the last week over a bizarre, seemingly picayune story about closed traffic lanes on a bridge.Continue Reading
A day after many Republicans were wondering whether their possible 2016 standard-bearer was on the brink of implosion, Christie quieted the anxiety with a forceful performance in which he apologized profusely and let go two top advisers. But the positive reviews came with a big caveat: Christie was so adamant about his noninvolvement in the bridge scandal that any proof otherwise down the road could be his political undoing.
Many Republicans familiar with Christie’s world privately predicted the biggest difficulty he will face over the next six months is the reordering of his inner circle after he ousted longtime aide Bill Stepien over his emails concerning the lane closures. Christie, whose supply of close aides is short, had relied on Stepien for many years.
The loss comes just as Christie is trying to transition from local sensation to true national figure.
But the immediate challenge for Christie — issuing a credible, full-throated mea culpa and showing heads were indeed rolling — was, by most accounts, met.
“How could he have done any better?” said Fred Malek, the finance chair of the Republican Governors Association, which Christie is currently the leader of, after the governor’s 107-minute press conference in Trenton. “He addressed the thing head on, he was totally credible” and “at the same time had plausible deniability and showed decisive leadership … I don’t see how he could do any better than that.”
Rudy Giuliani, a Christie ally who also had several damage-control press conferences of his own as New York City’s mayor, said he found the governor’s performance credible.
“I think it should convince people he’s telling the truth,” said Giuliani, adding that almost every chief executive ends up having to claim ownership for rogue staffers.
Giuliani argued that Christie has an alibi in the matter: the governor’s own, mocking comments about the issue when he was asked about the lane-closure flap.
“If he knew that he had vulnerability in a situation like this or had any inkling that [aides did know], he certainly would have been more quiet about it than he was,” said Giuliani.
A number of senior Republicans agreed that Christie seems to have cauterized the political wound, at least for now. Some even said Washington leaders could take pointers from Christie’s performance in terms of how to handle a crisis.
But Christie could not guarantee this was the end of the story. Even as he expressed total surprise at learning that some of his advisers had apparently allowed four days of traffic jams as political payback, Christie left open the possibility that there might be more to emerge — he just didn’t know.
Even Republicans who expressed dismay at the bridge mess seemed willing to give Christie the chance to fight another day.
Mel Sembler, the former Republican National Committee finance chairman, called the bridge scandal “terribly, terribly disappointing,” though he stopped short of blaming Christie personally.
“Not only do [the offending aides] need to be fired, they need to be prosecuted,” said the Florida-based Sembler, adding that he was more of a Jeb Bush booster than a Christie fan. “I’m going to have to take him at his word that he knew nothing about it.”