The Spectacle Blog

Is Christie Vindictive?

By on 1.9.14 | 3:46PM

Daniel Larison is less sanguine than I am about Chris Christie’s apology:

The lane closure episode ought to be a flashing warning light to Christie backers that their original assessment of his competence was likely very wrong, but so far that doesn’t appear to be what is happening. … His boosters in the party have ignored any possible liabilities that Christie could have, and by remaining oblivious or indifferent to his flaws (or pretending that those flaws are admirable qualities) they have convinced themselves that he is a more formidable candidate than really is. Having elevated Christie to the position of the default “establishment” candidate, his backers are to some extent stuck with supporting him for lack of an alternative.

I’ve defended Christie before, though I don’t plan to support him in the primary. But Larison is correct in the sense that various denizens of Scarboroughville, where the streetlights run on sanctimony and politics is derived from elite opinion, have swooned for the supposedly moderate Christie. This has led them to downplay his occasional rhetorical excesses and other problems. Even if they acknowledge the Fort Lee scandal (as Scarborough himself did), they’re unlikely to abandon him anytime soon.

I don’t think that Christie’s problem is his competence, as Larison does, but rather, as Alec MacGillis suggests, the perception of vindictiveness—“more like Nixon than Giuliani.” The suggestion that Christie has thin skin has been floating around for some time; the New York Times recently documented some of the governor’s alleged vengeances against those who crossed him, often in seemingly imperceptible ways.

Christie almost certainly didn’t know that his aides were politicizing the Fort Lee lane closures. But the reason Bridge-gate (can we call the president’s recent difficulties “Gates-gate”?) has resonance is because it fits into a template of vindictiveness that’s already been cut for Christie. And that will be the issue for 2016. Americans are perfectly willing to elect a bully if he attacks the right targets—bureaucracy, corruption, special interests. But if Christie seems more interested in settling personal scores, he's finished.

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