Looking to re-boot the Christie mechanism

Despite the overhanging clouds looking, if anything, ever more ominous – what with minions pleading the Fifth, worrisome allegations from other politicos and all the rest – the team responsible for packaging Governor Chris Christie has apparently determined that his rehabilitation process needs to forthwith get underway, scandal be damned. So last week saw a resumption of the fabled Christie town hall meetings, the first one since that reputed political payback action surrounding the George Washington Bridge traffic tie-up began derailing the New Jersey governor’s lofty ambitions… some believe, permanently.

Along with the town hall gathering which, as The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd pointed out, was scheduled in a comfortably Republican neck of the woods, there was also last week a convening of the National Governors Association in D.C. But here Christie and his handlers were focused on tight control of the optics. He skipped events, including a news conference and, notably, a White House dinner, the latter widely seen as avoidance of any further photo-op with President Obama. Boy, how the Christie universe has been turned on its head. In 2012, following superstorm Sandy’s devastation, glad-handing the president was the kind of campaign juice that made Christie’s day. Back then, it was all about showing off the new GOP golden boy who had the goods to deal with the other side – sweet relief for middle-of-the-road Americans sick of gridlock and the schmuck politicians causing it. For Christie’s part, if some scribes thought to affix a “moderate” label, he’ll take that too…never mind “moderate” stretching the truth quite a bit, as applied to Christie. But, anything to put the White House within reasonably easy reach in 2016.

So-called “Bridgegate,” along with charges, from seemingly newly emboldened voices, of Christie-style hardball that skirted lawful procedure, has placed daunting obstacles in the smooth path to the next GOP presidential nomination that the Christie machine likely imagined. But for the persistence of some New Jersey lawmakers unbowed by the governor’s dismissive air when they sought answers to the messy goings-on at the bridge last September, Christie would still be in steady-as-she-goes mode, riding high as the presumed unstoppable Republican prospect. In the quick turnaround, the governor has even heard speculation now about the possibility of being turned out of his current job, depending on what’s unearthed by the multiple investigations that have begun.

Christie’s contention that he wasn’t in the loop in what’s been revealed to be an orchestrated, deliberate traffic snarl on the GW Bridge (for reasons not yet clear) routinely fails to pass muster with folks on the side of his inquisitors. Even speaking on the record, pretty much to a man they usually say Christie’s being clueless about it all is too hard to swallow. That reaction is reflected in national polling, with more people in a late January NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll viewing the governor unfavorably (29 percent) than favorably (22 percent); and more people (44 percent) believing he’s lying about his knowledge of the bridge plot.

By itself, the bridge issue is a heavy lift for Christie. In that, even if there’s no evidence uncovered that links him to masterminding the dirty business, there’s still the question of how asleep at the wheel could he be to remain uncurious with such a massive quality-of-life problem dragging on for four days. From the camp of at least one potential rival for the GOP nomination has come a signal that the governor’s escaping responsibility in the hatching of “Bridgegate” hardly puts that issue behind him.

But compounding Christie’s difficulties and no doubt cementing many commentators’ conviction that climbing back is not in the cards, is the cascade of other troubling issues verily coming out of the woodwork and gaining traction. Among the charges of “enforcer” behavior by the Christie administration that have gone public, the mayor of Hoboken has probably generated the most ink. The mayor indicated her willingness to submit to any scrutiny, including a polygraph test, to buttress her claim of Christie’s deputy approaching her with a quid pro quo ultimatum involving Sandy relief funds and a pending development project in Hoboken. And the overall dispensing of aid to Sandy victims has in fact been the cause of a barrage of body blows landing on Christie lately.

After Christie became governor, he and his strategists obviously came to see the town hall format as a first-rate vehicle for selling the boss — whether or not reaching for higher office was always part of the plan, or such ambitions just evolved, once promoting the Christie town halls as YouTube highlights became ritual. But, given the cumulative bleakness now enveloping the governor, options for a positive way forward aren’t many. Reverting last week to a forum they regard as fertile ground must have seemed the path of least resistance. Dowd in the Times mentioned the notable absence from last week’s town hall proceedings of the “idiot” or “stupid” or “jerk” terms of endearment the “I’m not a bully” governor has reserved for many a Jerseyite in preceding sessions. At this point Christie’s camp is rolling the dice on time’s passage aiding the cause. Even while knowing that up ahead possibly lurks stuff that no amount of time will heal.

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