Chris Christie Is a Fun Study

Watching Chris Christie operate with the press always brings me back to high school. Don’t get on his bad side, or he’ll relentlessly bully you, dominating you with wit, antagonism, and a harsh glare. It’s a locker room persona that seems to work well in government. I shudder to think how adults who cannot grow out of Breakfast Club roles might find their way into higher public office.

Christie plays a brash character, and it’s one the public adores. It’s a character that is appropriate for the office boardroom, a man that can take charge of a presentation, speak confidently about what is going to happen and what can be done, and beat down any competitors or nay-sayers with flourish. Hell, the press might admit their love of Christie; they certainly got excited when he returned to the podium last week, slinging insults left and right at reporters. MSNBC programs returned to full attention of Christie and the delicious Bridgegate scandal he continues to survive.

This Bridgegate incident has one unassailable truth: traffic lanes were shut down for most of a week on the George Washington Bridge for no good reason. While this transgression doesn’t exactly compare with Richard Nixon’s machinations, we can forgive MSNBC their over-coverage because something shady had definitely taken place. The research and reporting have been quite fruitful, uncovering fun detail after fun detail about how the New Jersey government and the Port Authority operate…and boy, what a work environment! I’d be looking over my shoulder constantly in that state’s government offices, waiting for someone to inevitably plant a knife. A part of Christie’s allure is how he evades political attacks, but he should be careful about becoming the modern-day equivalent of Julius Caesar.

Christie has deflected much of the jeremiad, to this point. He has obviously taken a hit for any Presidential aspirations, yet he continues to soldier forth, confident in his own viability. Christie’s office commissioned attorney Randy Mastro to release an investigative report, designed, it seems, to distance Gov. Christie from knowledge of the traffic closures and besmirch the reputation of former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority exec. David Wildstein (Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer is also targeted, but that’s a different scandal). Since Kelly and Wildstein were the two correspondents involved in the infamous “Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee” e-mail, they have become the focus of the investigation and journalistic saturation. They hold the key to whether Chris Christie had knowledge of these traffic closures, and both remain mum, citing Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.

I am most interested in the closed-door meeting/exit interview that had to have taken place between the release of evidence to the media and Christie’s initial apologetic press conference, where he declared he fired all responsible parties. I can imagine three potential scenarios. These are purely speculative, but they are based on what I have absorbed from news coverage and reviewing the recently released report:

1) Wildstein and Kelly collaborated together and recklessly implemented the traffic study of the George Washington Bridge, independently from Christie’s knowledge or most other authority figures at the Port Authority. Maybe Kelly just had emotionally-driven revenge issues, as the report suggests. Maybe Wildstein is the maverick wild card that enjoys experimental machinations with his position of authority, also as Christie’s office has painted him. Maybe both were products of Christie’s assumed persona of bully, and they were attempting to impress him, like high school kids would do for the “cool kid.” At any rate, once Christie first learned about the lane closures, after it was reported in the media, he immediately gathered the responsible parties, berated them for lying and placing Christie in this tenuous position, and fired them with finality and without regret.

2) After the release of the evidence to the media, Wildstein and Kelly met with Chris Christie, either separately or jointly, to discuss what must be done in light of the exposure of this scandal. Since Wildstein and Kelly were directly implemented, they must be the sacrificial lambs to protect Christie from legal repercussions or removal from office. It was understood by all that Christie had to target the pair and harsh things would be said about Wildstein and Kelly, but it was a necessary evil in order to distance Christie from this scandal. The two were advised to stay under the radar and ride out the storm with the hopes that it would go away in a year or so. Most likely, they were offered severance packages with enhanced financial incentive and reminded of confidentiality agreements they had signed. Promises might have been made about future appointments, maybe even Cabinet roles, considering Christie’s potential for the Presidency. Wildstein and Kelly agreed to these terms, and the Governor thanked the pair for their service. Wildstein might have been the first to cave under the media pressure and realization of criminal prosecution, and he asked for immunity from New Jersey and federal investigators in return for his testimony. Kelly has recently asked for the same, most likely a result of how she has been identified in this recent report.

3) Wildstein and Kelly were livid when they learned they were being dismissed. They did not want to be sacrificial lambs and threatened to sing like songbirds to the media, if fired. Christie calmly stated that it was not his name on the e-mail, and he would deny any knowledge of the lane closures. He would remind the pair that he had the cooperation of every other member of his office and the Port Authority. Wildstein and Kelly were on an island by themselves, and they would most likely serve jail-time for the crime. If they disclosed Christie’s knowledge of the lane closures to prosecutors, Christie would have no choice but to target Wildstein and Kelly with all the resources at Christie’s disposal. I could see in my mind’s eye Christie threatening, “Do you really want to take ME on? You both know me. You know you don’t want to do that.”

Again, pure speculation…it would be most interesting to be a fly on that particular wall. It’s obvious that Christie wants us to believe scenario one is what happened, and it’s entirely possible that it is the truth. Stranger scenarios have happened in political office. It’s entirely possible that independent operators threw a monkey wrench into the Governor’s mission by operating without his awareness. I can also see an amalgamation of scenarios two and three, with Bridget Kelly conforming more to scenario two and David Wildstein acting out scenario three.

I am conflicted about Governor Christie. I do not appreciate how he believes in opportunity for individuals to become rich and successful instead of assisting poor people with public funding, but this is the uniform drumbeat of every conservative Republican. He is not singular there. I also do not appreciate him attacking a teacher with an authentic question during his last campaign for the Governor’s office; teachers are an easy target for politicians, and I’m just as tired of politicians as Christie might be with teachers. However, I respect how he stood up to other Republicans by diplomatically attending our President during the Hurricane Sandy disaster, doing what was necessary as Governor in an emergency situation. I also enjoy how he can focus that aggressive persona against other Republicans, like Rand Paul, when it warrants. If I had to pick a Republican candidate for whom I would vote for President, I would begrudgingly say that Chris Christie is better than any of the other potentials. However, this says more about the state of the Republican Party than any weak endorsement of Chris Christie here.

We’ll have to see how the investigation into Bridgegate plays outs. I have a feeling that Christie will weather this storm, but in the end, it will most likely derail his political viability for the office of President. Then again, if my first scenario ends up being correct (or decided upon as true by investigative commissions), then this might be the platform issue that drives Christie to the top of the pack. This will likely stretch into 2015. It’ll be an exciting ride, either way.

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Scott C. Guffey
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