Chris Christie's Bridgegate silver lining playbook

As unlikely as it seems, there may yet be a silver lining for Chris Christie in the Bridgegate fallout. With Democrats on the attack, Republicans are rallying to Christie's defense.

Mel Evans/AP
New Jersey Assemblymen John Wisniewski (l.), Lou Greenwald (r.), and incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (c.), here in Trenton, N.J. on Monday, respond to questions about a new special legislative committee to investigate the plot that came to be known as Bridgegate, especially how high up Gov. Chris Christie's chain of command responsibility for the events can be traced.

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.

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