The nod wasn’t a shock. Mr. Bevin is a tea party favorite who is running to Senator McConnell’s right, and FreedomWorks is among the party activist groups trying to rid the GOP of what they consider to be Gumby-flexible establishment Republicans.
McConnell, who helped broker the deal that ended last year’s government shutdown, is high on the FreedomWorks hit list. As it endorsed Bevin, the group published a list of what it terms McConnell’s top 10 worst votes, which in its eyes include his vote in 2003 to pass President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D proposal; his 2008 vote to pass the TARP financial bailout bill; and his 2013 legislative maneuvering, which reopened the federal government and allowed Democrats to lever Obamacare implementation funding back into the federal budget.
RECOMMENDED: Eight open US Senate seats in 2014
FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in an interview with the Louisville Courier Journal that his group's political action committee is ready to put as much as $500,000 into the Bevin race.
In recent days, Bevin and his supporters in the party have been pushing stuff they see as good news in an attempt to build momentum behind his campaign. Wednesday’s FreedomWorks endorsement is one such bit. Another is a Jan. 2 Human Events/Gravis poll in which McConnell leads Bevin among Kentucky Republican voters by 22 points, 53 percent to 31 percent.
Yes, that seems like a big margin, but other pollsters earlier in the year put the gap between the candidates as big as 52 percentage points. Thus, the latest poll shows Bevin is catching up, writes influential conservative pundit and radio host Erick Erickson on the right-leaning RedState site.
“Objectively he’s closed a pretty significant gap,” writes Mr. Erickson. “More importantly, conservatives are only just now starting to turn full focus to the primaries. Kentucky may have one before June, but there is still time for conservatives to rally to Matt Bevin.”
As to finances, Bevin aides have said their fourth-quarter 2013 fundraising was strong, at $900,000, and that the campaign now has about $1 million in the bank.
He’ll probably need every penny. Bevin is facing more than an uphill battle. Taking on the wily McConnell is more like climbing a vertical rock face using only your hands.
Twenty-two points is still a hefty difference, and it’s possible that Bevin’s improvement in recent months reflects simply an increase in name recognition among Kentucky voters. As to money, McConnell had raised $12 million for the current political cycle through the end of September 2013. He had almost $10 million cash on hand. (His campaign hasn’t released fourth-quarter figures.)
Then there is style. McConnell in past campaigns has proved himself to be adept at identifying his opponents’ weak points, and hitting them over and over in ads. There’s a reason Democrat Ashley Judd decided to pass on this race, after all.
With Bevin, that may be his business record. His family bell-manufacturing firm is located in Connecticut, not the Blue Grass State. It took state aid money to rebuild after the factory burned down.
Thus, McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore had this to say about Wednesday’s FreedomWorks endorsement: “A group that used to pride itself on grass-roots empowerment has endorsed a self-funding New England millionaire who takes taxpayer bailouts for his uninsured business, says he is a constitutionalist when he knows little about the Constitution and falsely claims he attended MIT.”
McConnell ads already label his challenger “Bailout Bevin.” You can bet every Kentucky voter will hear that phrase in coming months – multiple times.
RECOMMENDED: Eight open US Senate seats in 2014
Mr. Cuccinelli said the Bridge-gate scandal swirling around the Christie administration could lessen the New Jersey governor’s ability to promote Republican ideas and might implicitly tie other GOP candidates to the affair.
“I think just from the perspective of setting aside this as an issue in other races, it makes sense for him to step aside in that role,” Cuccinelli said.
Cuccinelli is a conservative former Virginia attorney general who lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Old Dominion’s gubernatorial race last fall. He trailed McAuliffe substantially through much of the campaign, but in the end his margin of defeat was only about two and a half percentage points.
He’s the first prominent party figure to call for Christie to step down from his RGA post, or at least the most prominent so far.
Why is he speaking out? It’s possible this is political payback, just like the Fort Lee traffic jams ordered up by Christie aides.
Last November MSNBC’s Chuck Todd reported that Christie declined a request made by prominent GOP conservatives to campaign for Cuccinelli. (He also turned down invitations to stump for party standard-bearer Mitt Romney, if you remember.) Other possible 2016 nomination hopefuls, such as Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, did turn up to try and help Cuccinelli. As a relative moderate, Christie perhaps did not want to associate too closely with the tea party-backed Virginian. In the end he was conspicuous by his absence.
So Cuccinelli could be aiming a kick at somebody when they’re down.
There is little chance of Christie taking this suggestion seriously, however, at least for now. There’s no evidence he knew that top aides were conspiring to block lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge. Absent further developments, for Christie to quit his party post would be to admit that the whole thing is a big deal and that his ability to raise money and campaign for other Republicans has been damaged, writes Allahpundit on the right-leaning Hot Air site.
“Once he admits that, he’s done in 2016. So he’ll press on and hope it either goes away or turns him into some sort of martyr of lefty media to Republican audiences,” Allahpundit writes.
The real danger for Christie here is that Cuccinelli’s dig might be the most public indication yet of a growing wariness about the New Jersey governor in the GOP’s rank-and-file. That would be particularly damaging if opposition grows among moderate and establishment Republicans, Christie’s natural base in the party.
Slate political reporter Dave Weigel says that he has started to hear concerns similar to Cuccinelli’s among Republicans, regardless of their personal affinities. He quotes Katon Dawson, a former GOP chair in South Carolina, to that effect.
“To most folks in my profession, it’s governorships we pay attention to. This all has the potential to affect the RGA and governor’s races if it grows any more legs,” Mr. Dawson told Weigel.
Christie was elected head of the RGA last November. The group enters the 2014 political cycle with a least $45 million cash-on-hand to fund political combat.
"In a critical year with 26 governor's races, Republican governors welcome [Christie's] leadership as Chairman of the RGA, and recognize that his record of accomplishment, broad political appeal, and tireless work ethic will be a tremendous asset in helping to win elections," said the organization's executive director Phil Cox last year.
Chris Christie’s poll numbers are getting worse. That’s no surprise given the nature of the Bridge-gate controversy.
The fact that Christie aides conspired to create traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., in an apparent act of political retribution has been extensively covered in national media. Though an early Pew poll showed the public wasn’t following this event too closely, later surveys show that negative views of the New Jersey governor are increasing. That may mean the stories are having an effect.
A Pew Research survey released Monday found that 34 percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion of Governor Christie, for example. That’s double the 17 percent who held that view in January 2013.
Christie’s favorable ratings fell only slightly in that same poll, from 40 percent with a positive opinion of him one year ago to 38 percent today. But the implication of the above numbers is that, in national terms, Christie’s image has changed from that of a generally-unknown-yet-somewhat-well-regarded figure, to that of somebody about whom US voters are almost evenly split.
A Quinnipiac survey released Tuesday has similar findings, with a 33 percent positive, 30 percent negative result. Quinnipiac shows what this means in theoretical election terms: Christie now trails Hillary Clinton by 38 to 46 percent in a hypothetical 2016 matchup.
Only one short month ago, Christie led the former secretary of State and first lady by one point, 42 to 41.
“New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie’s 2016 presidential drive is stuck in traffic, sideswiped by Bridgegate, the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.
For Christie, the good news is that 2016 is so far off that, in terms of overall voter opinions, these polls almost don’t matter. Many, many news events affecting the race will intervene before citizens actually go to the polls. The 2016 race indeed is underway, but at a different level. We’re in the “invisible primary” stage of the right now, in which big donors, campaign consultants, and party officials are weighing the strength and weaknesses of potential candidates to see who they’ll support.
But there is one particular number in the Pew poll which might concern Christie if he’s genuinely thinking about running for the Oval Office.
That figure? It’s the fast-declining percentage of people who say they have no opinion about Christie.
In 2013, fully 42 percent of respondents in Pew’s survey said that they had never heard of Christie, or didn’t know enough to have an opinion about him. In 2014, 28 percent said the same thing.
That’s a 14 percent swing. Coincidentally, Christie’s favorable/unfavorable matchup got worse by almost that same number – 17 percent – during that same time period.
People who don’t know you are people to whom you can still introduce yourself on your own terms. They’re easier to win over than people who’ve already heard something bad about you. That’s particularly true when “winning over” means “getting them to vote for you for president.”
To be fair, it’s just one poll. Quinnipiac’s numbers tell a different story. In their survey, the percentage of respondents who say they haven’t heard enough about Christie to have an opinion about him has actually increased a bit during the past year.
But in politics, as in life, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Christie must be hoping that Bridge-gate is not many voters’ introduction to his personality.
President Obama’s comments on marijuana continue to roil US politics Tuesday. Some pundits say Mr. Obama has brought needed perspective to the legalization debate by in essence playing down pot’s dangers. But others believe he’s wrong on the science of addiction and has made it harder for parents to handle a difficult issue with their kids.
“Whatever we decide to do in terms of legalization ... the president might at least refrain from giving every teen in the country a comeback to his parents (‘But the president says ...‘),” writes the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on her conservative-leaning “Right Turn” blog.
In case you missed it, here’s the backstory: In an interview with New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick released Sunday, the president said that marijuana is not any more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco in terms of its impact on individuals.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Obama said.
The president told Mr. Remnick that he’s disturbed by the disparities in punishment for marijuana use. Minorities and poor people are more likely to be arrested and locked up for smoking or selling pot than are middle-class Americans, according to Obama.
But he added that he’s aware that pot legalization could lead to slippery-slope arguments about normalizing the use of other drugs. And the president said that as a parent he’s warned Sasha and Malia about the dangers of the drug.
“I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time,” said Obama.
Interestingly, political reaction to these statements cuts across partisan lines to some extent.
Some Republicans do argue that the GOP, as a party, should oppose legalization. Republican strategist Ed Rogers wrote Monday that “Republicans need to be clear: Marijuana use doesn’t lead to anything helpful or productive. The president won’t say so, but Republican leaders should.”
But others on the right argue that individual liberty would be increased and societal costs decreased if the US dialed back federal opposition to marijuana.
“We should at least be talking about reducing the penalties, danger, and illegality for a drug that society decided a long time ago it likes,” writes Allahpundit on the conservative-leaning "Hot Air" site.
Meanwhile, not all liberals agree with Obama’s comments. Chris Matthews, normally a reliable administration supporter, said on his MSNBC show “Hardball” Monday that Obama is wrong to say pot is no more dangerous than alcohol. Former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and chairman of the advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, agreed with Mr. Matthews and added that today’s pot is much more potent and dangerous than the weed Obama smoked during his teenage “Choom Gang” days.
“He’s wrong when he says it isn’t very harmful,” said Mr. Kennedy on “Hardball.”
As to the possible reaction of voters, polls indicate that support for marijuana legalization has recently passed a threshold, with a majority in favor. Last October a Gallup survey found 58 percent of Americans said pot should be legal.
And Obama’s words may have political effects in the relatively short term. Other states are planning to follow Colorado and Washington State’s lead and put referenda on pot legalization on the ballot.
In Oregon, for instance, advocates are gathering signatures in a campaign that appears somewhat likely to put recreational marijuana use up to voters in 2014. The president’s position on the issue “will certainly have an impact on voters in the state of Oregon,” state Rep. Vicki Berger (R) told the Statesman Journal newspaper.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal has expanded beyond traffic jams, as his lieutenant governor Monday fended off assertions that she made hurricane Sandy aid for the city of Hoboken contingent on the mayor's supporting a commercial development project.
With the US Attorney's office involved and at least 20 subpoenas issued to people connected with the Christie administration, there's little chance the scandal will blow over quickly. The question is whether ongoing developments – and media that can't seem to get enough of the juicy details – will hurt Governor Christie's future career in any permanent way, and whether Americans far away from the George Washington Bridge and the Sandy recovery will still care about the scandal, if Christie runs for president.
"Based on what has come out so far, it doesn’t seem likely to be a deal breaker," says John Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. At this point, more than two years before the presidential election and with no certainty Christie will run, only political junkies are debating the scandal's potential effects. "It really depends if there are any solid new developments," he adds.
On Monday, all the developments were related to allegations that Christie's administration tied hurricane aid to support for pet projects – claims his second in command firmly denied.
"I deny any suggestion made by Mayor [Dawn] Zimmer that there was ever any condition on the release of Sandy funds by me," Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said Monday at a news conference.
"Mayor Zimmer's version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined. Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false," Ms. Guadagno said.
In a statement Saturday, Christie's team noted that Hoboken had been approved for $70 million in federal aid and blamed the allegation on "partisan politics." They also criticized MSNBC as "a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him."
Hoboken Mayor Zimmer, a Democrat, said over the weekend that Guadagno – along with other top officials – had pushed her to approve a development project that was "very important" to Christie, and said that if she did so, Sandy aid "would start flowing to you."
"I was directly told by the lieutenant governor – she made it very clear – that the … project needed to move forward or they wouldn't be able to help me," Zimmer told The Associated Press.
Following Guadagno's press conference, and her denials that such a conversation ever took place, Zimmer released a statement saying she was "genuinely disappointed" by the denials. "I met with the US Attorney for more than two hours yesterday, answered all their questions and turned over my journal in which I described my conversation with the lieutenant governor and Commissioner Constable," ZImmer said in the statement. "I stand by my word, remain willing to testify under oath, and I will continue to answer any questions asked of me by the US Attorney's office."
Already, some conservative columnists, including the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, have blamed the media's relentless focus on Christie's scandals on "liberal media bias."
"The bridge scandal started out as a test for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)," wrote Ms. Rubin. "Now it has become a test for the media."
But despite the relentless media focus, the scandal so far doesn't seem to be affecting Christie himself all that much. In a Quinnipiac poll last week, just 22 percent of New Jersey voters said they believe Christie personally ordered the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, compared with two-thirds who don't believe he did. They characterize him as a "leader" as opposed to a "bully" by a margin of 14 percentage points. And his approval rating stands at 55 percent (with 38 percent who disapprove) – a drop from the 68 percent approval rating he enjoyed in the summer, but still not bad for a Republican governor of a Democratic state in the midst of a high-profile scandal.
But that poll was just of New Jersey voters.
A new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll released Monday, on the other hand, showed that among Americans across the country, 58 percent of those aware of the Bridgegate scandal do not believe Christie's statements that he knew nothing of the plan to tie up traffic. Just 32 percent said they do believe Christie was unaware of his aides' actions.
How much Americans care may depend, in large part, on how further implicated Christie himself is in the scandal, say political experts.
So far, the story hasn't had much impact on Americans' image of Christie outside of New Jersey, says Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. But, he says, that could change if clearer evidence emerges that Christie was personally involved in either the lane closure decision or threats to withhold hurricane aid.
"If such evidence does emerge," says Professor Abramowitz in an e-mail, "it certainly has the potential to be damaging to Christie in New Jersey and nationally because it would undermine his image as a guy who governs in a bipartisan way and puts the interests of the public ahead of petty partisan considerations. And the Sandy aid story involves the issue that Christie built his national reputation on."
Without major developments that further implicate Christie, however, it's doubtful how much the scandal would affect any presidential aspirations Christie might have for the 2016 election.
"Democrats will use it, Republican rivals will certainly use it, but on a scale of 1 to 10, so far, it’s maybe a 2 or a 3," says Professor Pitney, noting that the equivalent on the Democratic side is Benghazi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's possible errors in handling it. "If there's nothing new [in either case], there's not a silver bullet," he says.
Monday, Pitney notes, is the 25th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush's inauguration – following the Iran-Contra scandal, which broke during the Reagan administration, with then-Vice President Bush also taking the heat.
If Iran-contra doesn’t take down a candidate, I don’t think Bridgegate will," says Pitney.
President Obama spoke out on marijuana in an interview with the New Yorker released Sunday. He told David Remnick, the magazine’s editor, that pot is not any more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco in terms of its impact on individuals.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Mr. Obama said.
The president added that he was concerned that minorities and lower-income Americans are disproportionately likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses.
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said.
Obama said it was important for state experiments to go forward in Colorado and Washington on the legalization of recreational marijuana use. But he urged a cautious approach to such state-by-state change, and said that legal pot won’t solve many social issues and could present some difficult slippery-slope arguments,
“If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, 'Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka,' are we open to that?” said Obama.
And as a parent the president said he’s warned Sasha and Malia about the dangers of the drug.
“I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time,” said Obama.
Legalization moves in the states are certainly one reason why the president stepped warily into the public debate over this issue in his New Yorker interview. But the larger issue for the administration here may be the fast-changing attitudes of voters toward the issue.
Last October Gallup found that for the first time a majority of Americans, 58 percent, said marijuana should be legalized. In that Gallup survey 39 percent said the drug should remain illegal.
That’s a huge swing in national attitudes from 1969, when Gallup first asked the question. That year only 12 percent of respondents said they favored legal pot.
This change began to really accelerate in the late 1990s, according to Gallup data. In the last year alone US support for legalization jumped 10 percentage points.
“Success at the ballot box ... in Colorado and Washington may have increased Americans’ tolerance for marijuana legalization,” writes Gallup’s Art Swift.
A January CNN poll mirrored Gallup’s results, with 55 percent of respondents saying marijuana use should not be against the law.
As George Zornick notes in the Washington Post “Plum Line” political blog, it’s likely legal marijuana will be on the ballot in Florida this year, and Democrats could use the issue to boost turnout among young voters. Alaska, Arizona, California, and Oregon similarly may have pot votes this fall.
Whether he meant to or not, Obama is positioning himself and his party in such a way that “many Democrats feel could reap serious political rewards in the coming months and years,” writes Zornick.
Critics of legal pot maintain that loosening restrictions could lead to more underage use and motor vehicle accidents caused by high drivers. Any push for more widespread legalization is also likely to raise such difficult issues as the fate of current prison inmates who were convicted of marijuana offenses.
Furthermore, whatever one thinks about pot as a political issue, Obama’s words might still make parents across the nation wince.
“A lot of parents who want to discourage marijuana smoking in their kids are not going to thank him for it,” writes Martin Longman (who agrees in theory with Obama’s overall position) on the Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal” blog.
Bruce Springsteen is doubling down on his criticism of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) over the “bridgegate” affair. At least, that’s what it looks like to us at the moment.
For Governor Christie, that has got to sting. He’s been a huge Springsteen fan for decades, having attended more than 130 concerts. After years of trying, he finally got Mr. Springsteen to talk to him after that whole superstorm Sandy mess. Now this. The bromance is over.
First, the backstory: This week The Boss appeared on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” in a parody song that poked fun at Christie. The segment began with Mr. Fallon, dressed Bruce-like in jeans and sleeveless shirt, playing the familiar opening notes of “Born to Run,” with new words.
“In the day we sweated out on the streets/stuck in traffic on the GWB,” Fallon sang. “They shut down the tollbooths of glory ’cuz we didn’t endorse Christie.”
Eventually, Springsteen himself strolled onstage, to Fallon’s mock surprise. They were dressed exactly alike.
Springsteen began in a conciliatory manner, singing, “C’mon and let me in/I wanna be your friend/there’ll be no partisan divisions.”
But it went downhill for Christie from there, as Springsteen sang about the highway jammed with peeved-off drivers and so forth.
First, a correction: In our original story about this Wednesday, we noted that while the audience seemed mostly to love the song, there were a scattering of “boos” at the end. As many, many readers wrote in to tell us, those were actually fans yelling “Brruuuccce,” as happens often at Springsteen concerts.
No, we don’t get out enough. Thanks to all of you for pointing that out, in so many words.
Second, Springsteen seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, and he hasn’t since backed off. If anything, he’s amped up. Look at Springsteen’s official website on Thursday, and the headline “LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON” hits you right in the face, along with the clip of the “Jersey Traffic Jam” song.
Underneath are more videos from the show, of Bruce and the E Street Band performing clips from their just-released album, “High Hopes.”
His official Twitter feed has mentioned the song and linked to it as well.
Are you shocked, shocked that a musician might use an attention-grabbing controversy to sell some of his own songs? Particularly somebody who sings a lot about the problems of unfettered capitalism?
Look, a working stiff has to take his publicity as he finds it in today’s tough music market. Rolling Stone may have given the album 4-1/2 stars, but Pandora and Spotify have made it a jungleland out there, even for acts that can sell out stadium shows.
There’s been no official reaction yet from the Christie camp on the Springsteen thing. They’ve got other things on their minds. The New Jersey General Assembly and the state Senate both announced the formation of committees to investigate the circumstances of the Fort Lee traffic jam. Christie has hired outside counsel to assist his administration in bridgegate investigations.
In the past, though, Christie has sounded resigned to the fact that he and his musical idol have widely divergent political views. And he’s defended Springsteen from charges that he’s a hypocrite because he sings about tough times and union jobs while staying at the Four Seasons.
“I think he’s the personification of the American dream: the kid from Freehold whose father had nothing but a bunch of very difficult and seemingly unsatisfying jobs, and a mother who was a working-class office worker, and now he’s one of the wealthiest people in music. He should enjoy it,” Christie told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic in a fascinating 2012 piece on the fraught relationship between the two famous Jersey boys.
President Obama is scheduled to announce National Security Agency reforms in a speech at the Justice Department Friday. While the White House has yet to announce the specifics of Obama’s proposal, here’s a prediction almost guaranteed to come true: afterwards, somebody is going to be angry.
By “somebody,” we mean one side or the other in the ongoing debate as to whether NSA surveillance has gone too far, of course. The reason for this is that the NSA and its possible overreach is just the sort of security issue the president cannot win.
For the record we’ll note we’re not the only ones making this argument. “From the looks of it, pretty much everyone is going to be mad at him,” writes Dana Liebelson of Mother Jones.
On one side, Mr. Obama’s being pressed by a loud public outcry over revelations of the wide scope of NSA programs. Agency leaker Edward Snowden said he wanted to start a national conversation about secret electronic surveillance, and he’s certainly done that.
“I think Americans across the political spectrum want us to have this debate and want to have a clear understanding of what is going on,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at the start of a Jan. 14 hearing on the NSA.
This public interest isn’t likely to die down. One reason for this is the shocking nature of the revelations. Snowden leaks showed that the NSA collects the metadata – time, numbers involved, etc. – of the phone calls of millions of Americans, for instance.
Plus, stuff is still coming out. A Wednesday New York Times report, partly based on Snowden-provided documents, explained how the NSA uses radio to spy on computers that aren’t connected to the Internet.
However, Obama faces pressure from the other side of this debate that’s just as intense, if not more so. Security and intelligence officials argue that there are safeguards in place to guard against any NSA abuses – and that the programs in question are needed to prevent further large-scale terrorist attacks on the US or its interests.
For a US chief executive, these points are personal. The officials in question make them to his face. Keeping Americans safe is one of a president’s highest responsibilities. The political and policy fallout from a successful terror strike would be swift and sharp, as opposed to the lingering and perhaps less intense difficulties caused by giving the NSA freer rein.
A politician naturally might try to split the difference in such a situation. That’s perhaps what Obama is trying to do, according to leaked accounts of moves he may announce on Friday.
It appears Obama will do something, but not as much as an independent panel he appointed last month has recommended. On the question of bulk telephone metadata surveillance, for instance, the president is expected to stress that it can’t continue in its present form. But he won’t propose a move the panel urged: requiring that the metadata be retained by telephone companies or some other non-governmental entity, not the NSA, in case intelligence analysts believe it needs to be searched.
Instead Obama will say that Congress should weigh in and pass changes to the program, according to reports.
Given the speed and efficiency with which lawmakers work these days, that’s tantamount to doing nothing, say privacy advocates.
“Keeping the storage of all Americans’ data in government hands and asking ‘lawmakers to weigh in’, as reported, is passing the buck – when the buck should stop with the president,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
Another widely discussed possible move would place an independent privacy advocate in the secret Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which approves spying on Americans. Obama backs this change, according to the Associated Press. But it’s been publicly opposed in recent days by a senior US district judge, John D. Bates.
“The participation of an advocate would neither create a truly adversarial process nor constructively assist the court in assessing the facts,” said Bates, who is the administrative judge of the US court system and was formerly the chief judge of the FISA court.
There is one move Obama reportedly will make that is likely to get approval from both sides of the debate – as well as from across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He’s expected to say that any surveillance of foreign leaders will have to be approved by top administration officials. That could ease tensions with such allies as Germany, whose chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been an NSA eavesdropping target in the past.
Chris Christie’s "bridgegate" affair has already generated lots of jokes. But none may sting the governor of New Jersey as much as a skit on the most recent “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” that lampooned the subject with a parody of a Bruce Springsteen song.
Why might it hurt? Because Governor Christie loves Mr. Springsteen’s music. He has been to more than 130 Springsteen shows. He knows all the Boss hits by heart. He dances. He famously cried after finally getting a hug from Springsteen after a show.
And Springsteen himself appeared on Mr. Fallon’s stage to sing the “Stuck in Jerseyland” song. Triple ouch.
That’s right. The skit opened with comedian Fallon, dressed in Bruce-like jeans and a sleeveless denim shirt, carrying an acoustic guitar. He played the familiar opening notes to “Born to Run.” But the words were different.
“In the day we sweated out on the streets stuck in traffic on the GWB,” fake Springsteen sang. “They shut down the tollbooths of glory ’cuz we didn’t endorse Christie.”
And so on. You get the idea. Then about a minute or so in, the real Springsteen comes walking out of the dark at the back of the stage, dressed in identical clothing. (Did we mention Springsteen has a new album out this week, coin-ki-dinkally? Surely that had nothing to do with this politically charged appearance, since Springsteen is a well-known opponent of the corporate machine.)
Bruce began with a bipartisan nod.
“C’mon and let me in/I wanna be your friend/there’ll be no partisan divisions,” he sang.
But no, the target here was just irresistible. Springsteen rocked into the chorus, singing, “I really gotta take a leak/but I’m stuck in Gov. Chris Christie’s Fort Lee New Jersey traffic jam!”
OK, as we said, this might actually offend Christie. He is quintessentially a Jersey boy, after all. He was born in Newark, went to the University of Delaware (which is pretty Jersey-oriented since Delaware is the Garden State’s kid brother), and has worked as a New Jersey lawyer and politician his whole adult life.
Springsteen is New Jersey’s most famous product, excepting perhaps traffic. He is such an icon of his generation that Millennials now generally don’t like him because he’s emblematic of older folks.
After years of rejection, Christie finally met Springsteen when the rocker agreed to participate in charity concerts to raise money for victims of superstorm Sandy. Now the estrangement may rise again.
But the biggest trouble sign here may just be the comedy. As we’ve written before, one of Christie’s biggest obstacles to overcoming the political effects of the Fort Lee scandal is that it’s funny. Take traffic jams, tollbooths, Fort Lee, and put them together, and you have an endless array of material for Fallon, Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show," "Saturday Night Live," and so forth. The New York media machine is just over the George Washington Bridge, after all, and it’s always desperate for new comedic material.
Right now, the public isn’t really interested in bridgegate, per se. That’s seen in a recent Pew poll that shows voters followed it less, as a news item, than the winter weather that swept the nation last week. As a result, it hasn’t changed opinions about the New Jersey governor that much.
But if David Letterman, Jay Leno, et al., make it a running gag? That could effectively prolong the story and publicize it, making it more difficult for Christie’s favorability ratings to escape its effects.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misconstrued the audience's reaction during the Jimmy Fallon show.]
Bridgegate is bad for Chris Christie, obviously. That (almost) goes without saying. Who ever said: “If my staff created traffic jams to punish my enemies, and I had to hold a two-hour press conference to talk about it, it would be good for my political future”? Nobody. Ever.
And it could get worse. Eventually Governor Christie’s fired staff members will have to testify under oath before a Democratic-controlled New Jersey Assembly investigation. That could kick the scandal up a notch, depending on what they say.
But is there any sort of a silver lining for the governor of New Jersey in his current predicament? We’d say, maybe. It’s even possible that if the scandal reaches a point of stasis, it could actually improve Christie’s prospects of winning the GOP presidential nomination.
That’s because it could broaden his appeal among party factions. The dynamic at work would be that old standby: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The enemy in this case is the Democratic Party official apparatus. As Politico reports today, the Democratic National Committee is producing anti-Christie messaging memos for party surrogates around the country. They’ve accused Christie of trying to make himself “the victim of the scandal," among other things.
“The goal of the current Democratic onslaught is straightforward: not just to harass Christie over the current scandal, but to permanently cripple his reputation as a likable and honest political maverick, kneecapping him as a 2016 competitor in the process,” writes Politico’s Alexander Burns.
In Republicans, this onslaught is producing a sort of rally-around-the-Christie effect. Even conservatives who have been suspicious of Christie as a Northeasterner and possible moderate are now defending him. The New Jersey governor quickly fired the aides responsible and then stood in front of reporters for almost two hours, answering every question put to him, they say. That’s more than President Obama has done in regards to the IRS targeting of conservative groups and the Benghazi attack in Libya, according to the GOP’s own talking points.
For instance, on his Fox News show yesterday, the right-leaning Bill O’Reilly said Christie should be believed when he says he didn’t know what was going on, until there’s evidence to the contrary. And the GOP needs a fighting candidate, Mr. O’Reilly added. In this view, Mitt Romney lost in 2012 in part because he didn’t have the stomach to hit Obama hard enough.
“Christie does, and is therefore a threat to the power of the Democratic Party,” said the Fox News host and conservative bellwether.
In the Washington Examiner, the conservative economist and writer Thomas Sowell says that, in terms of policies, he’d prefer someone other than Christie as a 2016 candidate. But he adds that he was impressed by the governor’s press conference appearance.
“Whatever the political fate of Christie, he has provided an example of the kind of articulation that is needed – indeed, imperative – if the Republicans are to have any chance of rescuing this country,” writes Mr. Sowell.
For Christie himself, Bridgegate could have an annealing effect. The media and political onslaught he’s now undergoing could prepare him for the rigors of a national campaign. If he wins, and manages to win a general election, he’d have presidential-level crisis experience. Given that this is the beginning of his second term as New Jersey governor, he might even be on guard against that dreaded experience of many recent US chief executives, the second-term slump.
That’s all notional, though. Christie’s got to make it through the next few months before he can see whether his 2016 chances have been hurt or enhanced. And some pundits say the Republican right isn’t going to go for Christie in the primaries, no matter if they’re defending him now.
Christie is considered a Republican front-runner mostly because of his name recognition, writes National Journal political expert Charlie Cook. In the end, he’s not the kind of person the GOP as a whole will support.
“It’s laughable that the party that has previously seriously considered some fairly inconceivable candidates as worthy of the GOP nomination would suddenly reverse course and head over to a center-right candidate such as Christie,” Cook writes.