The emerging scandal over Chris Christie’s staff causing traffic jams does not come close to dooming him for 2016.
Earlier today there was a major break in the scandal surrounding allegations that New Jersey Governor Christ Christie’s staff played a major role in causing traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey by shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge in an act of political revenge. The traffic jams where allegedly created in response to the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, refusing to endorse Christie for reelection in 2013.
Christie, a promising contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has long portrayed the allegations as a bit of a joke, but newly released emails show that his deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly emailed a Christie appointee at the Port Authority telling him “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” A little while later a number of lanes on the bridge were shut down on the first day of school.
While this scandal certainly is not good for Christie (the governor) or Christie (the presidential aspirant), a number of commentators have unfortunately jumped up to claim that this dooms Christie’s chances for the White House. New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait went so far as to claim that these new allegations, “…will probably destroy Christie’s chances in 2016.”
I really doubt this. First of all it’s not clear if this scandal will even reach Christie himself. Kelly has already resigned and it is quite possible that this whole fiasco was just some overzealous staffers trying to please their boss without his knowledge or okay. It’s also possible that Christie will be able to claim this and nobody will be able to prove him wrong. In fact it’s not even clear what laws might have been broken by causing a traffic jam out of political spite.
Secondly, past campaigns are filled with scandals that were supposed to doom candidates that never really played out. Indeed for every scandal like the sex scandal that doomed Gary Hart’s 1988 bid, there were scandals that failed to pan out like the Iran-Contra Affair that supposedly would end George H. W. Bush’s chances and Gennifer Flowers’ allegations that supposedly would end Bill Clinton’s aspirations as well.
Finally, it’s not at all clear that party actors, the folks who actually decide nominations, will necessarily abandon Christie in mass for even a fairly serious scandal. I doubt he could survive being criminally indicted, but if he was just forced to do a staff shakeup and apologize this could easily be forgotten in about a month. In short, the allegations don’t help Christie, but he certainly isn’t out of the hunt yet. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
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-Photo by Mel Evans/AP