The scandal of The George Washington Bridge and Chris Christie is one of the most overhyped political dramas of the last decade. We live in an era where political vindictiveness and a bully government seem ubiquitous—the IRS scandal, TSA, NSA—and gross human error is epidemic—Fast and Furious, Benghazi, Hurricane Katrina. The Christie scandal has gotten coverage due to a slow news week rather than the actual size of the offense.
While this doesn’t bode well for trust in government, the real story is about how the image of Christie has been radically altered in our celebrity culture that builds people up in order to destroy them.
After a crushing defeat by President Obama in 2008, with the further losses of both the House and the Senate, Republicans were in desperate need of a hero. Christie rose through the ranks, winning a governorship in an overwhelmingly blue state, despite a third-party candidate. This gave Republicans their first net gains in governorships since 2003.
The Tea Party surge of 2010 and the 2012 election left Republicans with control of 30 governorships—the largest majority since 1999. Of these governors, none has been the reliable newsmaker, cause of ire, and last best hope for the Republican Party, all at the same time, like Governor Christie.
His war against the teachers’ unions had early presidential race watchers abuzz. Ann Coulter said, “If we don’t run Christie, we’ll lose,” Joe Scarborough called him “a man of all factions,” and Glenn Beck said, “We need more Chris Christie common sense porn.” He was immediately hailed as our new Reagan.
As governor, Christie’s policies were mixed. His stance on illegal immigration, support for some gun control, and appointment of liberal judges hurt his reputation with conservatives who were paying attention—a very small percentage of the population.
None of his actual policies, though, really damaged him with the base. Much of the love for Christie from both Republicans and independents is based on his image: He is the Teflon governor.
Christie’s fall was embracing President Obama during a natural disaster that left hundreds of thousands of Jersey residents without homes or electricity. Had it not been an election year it might have been called an act of leadership, but with the presidential election just days away, it was the greatest betrayal. Just as Judas sealed Christ’s fate with a kiss, Obama may have sealed Christie’s with a hug. Those same conservatives who loved him in 2010 suddenly hated him just three short years later.
The right’s biggest issue with Christie, as is their biggest problem with all likely conservatives who have the ambition of running for president in 2016, is that no single candidate is pure enough. Right now conservatives are holding RINO trials in the same way that Puritans attached rocks to women’s feet to see if they were guilty of being a witch—no Christine O’Donnell reference intended. None can survive such a test.
Not even Ronald Reagan could have lived up to the shadow his legacy cast, and certainly not Rand Paul, Chris Christie, or even Ted Cruz. Conservatives need to stop looking for a savior; the reason we tend to be religious is that we found ours in faith. Politics is about pragmatism and coalitions. Idol worship of politicians is for heathens and atheists.
The overwhelming fear of Northeast establishment Republicans is overhyped. The Northeast—if you include New Jersey and Pennsylvania—has three Republican governors, and the only one from New England is a Tea Partier. The establishment, as it was defined in the 1940s, does not exist. All our candidates for president are pro-life. The only difference in our candidates is what faction of the right they come from, not whether they are right-wing.
The fear of a Christie presidency and loathing of the man himself needs to be relaxed on the right. He’s not perfect, he’s not Reagan…but he never said he was. It’s time for the right to stop eating its own.
And as far as the George Washington Bridge is concerned, those responsible should be punished. It looks like Christie is showing more leadership than our president and actually firing those claiming responsibility. Obama should follow suit on the multiple scandals that cloud his administration. At the end of the day, the only surprising part of this was that a New Jersey politician closed a bridge instead of blowing it up.