Bridgegate schmidgegate: Christie could still run for president

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington & Nick Eicher
Posted 9/24/14, 03:10 pm

This article is the tenth in a series called White House Wednesday, by the staff of The World and Everything in It, looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Earlier installments profiled Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Vice President Joe Biden, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Congressman Paul Ryan, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Rand Paul,  former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s appearance at a fundraiser for a fellow Republican in New Hampshire last week fueled speculation about a Christie campaign for the White House. His stump stop on behalf of New Hampshire gubernatorial hopeful Walt Havensein is one of many recent trips to that early presidential primary state. 

One reporter in Nashua, N.H., tried to get Christie to talk about 2016. But Christie replied: “I don’t look ahead past November buddy, so maybe phrase your question differently, you might get an answer.”

The buzz surrounding a future Chris Christie White House bid started all the way back in 2010, his very first year in office. Christie gained national notoriety as the political world’s first YouTube star when video clips of his many town hall events went viral. The public quickly became fascinated with New Jersey’s blunt, bold, charismatic, and clearly one-of-a-kindgovernor.

But some didn’t care for his frank and unvarnished demeanor. At a May 2010 event, one reporter asked the governor if he thought his “confrontational” style might be counterproductive. Not surprisingly, the answer was direct: “I love when people say they don’t want to have argument. That’s what we were sent here for.”

Garden State voters found Christie honest and refreshing, and Republicans across the country loved him. By the fall of 2011, Christie was a bona fide Republican star. But as fast as he rose to prominence, he fell from grace. In October 2012, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, many Republicans felt the governor had gone overboard with lavish praise of the Obama administration’s federal assistance to his stricken state.

Conservatives in particular said Christie became a willing set piece for presidential photo ops in the crucial weeks before the 2012 election.

And then after Christie’s overwhelming reelection as governor a year after that, came the Fort Lee lane-closure scandal involving the George Washington bridge that links New Jersey to Manhattan.

The media treated the bridge scandal as a massive event when news of it broke. “We’ve counted 88 stories in the first 48 hours,” said Tim Graham of the Media Research Center. “They treated this like it was Watergate.”

From day one, Democrats have been trying to tell voters Christie is a bully. And since “Bridgegate,” they’ve been able to point and say, see, we told you! 

Last week, NBC’s New York affiliate reported the investigation has turned up no evidence the governor had any knowledge of what was going on or that he was in any way involved. The investigation is not over, but federal officials with knowledge of the investigation said there just isn’t anything there in relation to Christie. 

The report was an important first step for Christie to move past the scandal, but until the investigation is officially closed, it will hang over his head to some degree. The probe could drag on for years. An Obama-appointed U.S. attorney is conducting it, and many suspect there is no motivation to put a bow on this probe in time for Christie to make a presidential run. Christie will have to generate new momentum.

Though he’s widely talked about as if he were on political life support, the latest approval ratings for the governor—from before the report indicating his innocence in the bridge mess—is 53 percent. Despite nearly a year of incredibly negative press, he still has a positive approval rating in a deep blue state. That success is why he is the one Republican that Democrats have feared the most during the past four years.

He still has a strained relationship with the conservative base of the GOP, but so did John McCain and Mitt Romney. Many conservatives call Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a hero for taking on the unions in Wisconsin, but Christie charged that hill first. He is conservative on fiscal and social issues. 

He has signed on to certain gun control measures, and he would have to answer some tough questions on other issues in a primary. But, overall, he is more conservative than some people give him credit for being.

Listen to White House Wednesday on The World and Everything in It:

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

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