Following Bridgegate, Rand Paul emerged in the 2016 spotlight and Chris Christie retired to the shadows.
Debates on Paul’s foreign policy, his positions on social issues, and his attempt at broader conservative outreach at places like UC Berkeley have been front and center of both right and left publications. Christie has not.
In fact, murmurs of Jeb Bush emerging as a presidential candidate may further dwarf Christie’s standing in the media as the establishment-favored contender.
But there’s one public figure who hasn’t forgotten about Christie: Chris Christie.
According to Real Clear Politics, a recent investigation conducted by the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher has “found no direct connection between the governor and the lane closures.” It should be noted that Christie personally hired the firm, but granted them complete access to his phone and phone records, as well as his government and personal email accounts. Two public inquiries are also set to be conducted.
The need to initiate a private investigation reveals that he hasn’t counted himself out of the presidential race. Though a private investigation demonstrates initiative in the midst of a scandal, it also comes with the benefit of expedition. Being tentatively blamed for Bridgegate, Christie has been left in the dark and needs to make up for lost time in the press.
In fact, Christie’s disappearance may have been mostly his own decision—and a politically smart one:
[Christie] rarely appears in public in [the chairmanship role] these days. For instance, he ducked the national press at the recent National Governors Association conference in Washington, and earlier this week the RGA sent out a statement praising vulnerable Gov. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) economic record not from Christie, but from Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV).
His reluctance to make public appearances makes sense if he is still seriously considering a presidential bid.
How an absolved Christie can perform in the presidential primary isn't clear yet. A March 10 poll conducted by the Des Moines Register claims that 47 percent of Iowa Republicans negatively view the way Christie handled the New Jersey scandal, and even more politically damaging, 60 percent of registered independents disapprove.
While winning Iowa does not guarantee status as the national nominee, as Rick Santorum won the state in 2012 (though Romney came in a very close second), low numbers can exclude a candidate from capturing necessary momentum.
The 2016 election is still far away, but even if the New Jersey governor leaves the Bridgegate scandal cleared, he will have to make serious strides to reconstruct his image.
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