In his Thursday morning press conference regarding “Bridgegate,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie demonstrated the sort of leadership and responsibility-taking that has allowed him to be a popular Republican governor in a very blue state and the current front-runner for the Republican nomination for president (to the dismay of many conservatives).
In short, the scandal revolves around Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, contacting a Christie-appointed Port Authority official named David Wildstein and telling him to cause traffic problems for the town of Fort Lee, NJ. It is believed, though not proven in the e-mails uncovered by the Bergen Record, that the purpose was retaliation against the Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie in his most recent election.
Wildstein resigned last month and Kelly has been fired, and in today’s press conference Christie also reported that he has told his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who had knowledge of the events, to withdraw his name from consideration for state party chairman and to end his consulting for the Republican Governors Association. In a hearing before a state House committee on Thursday about the events, Wildstein asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, perhaps wise given that some are blaming the death of an elderly woman on an ambulance delay caused by Wildstein and Kelly's actions; the committee voted to "place him in contempt of this committee, which is a misdemeanor."
Christie, for his part, was aggressively contrite. He said he felt “embarrassed and humiliated” but also said that what happened in his office is his responsibility and he would deal with it in every possible way, including going to Fort Lee today to meet with the mayor and apologize to the town’s people while in their town. Mayor Sokolich initially suggested that Christie stay away, saying that an apology is "premature" with investigations and more press conferences still to come, but Sokolich soon changed his mind.
As part of his explanation of why he had denied the story two weeks ago, Christie said that the story didn’t make sense to him from the beginning because Mayor Sokolich was never on his radar, that the Christie campaign was not looking for the mayor’s endorsement, and therefore that he didn’t believe early reports that someone in his campaign had retaliated against someone whom Christie didn’t think was important in his reelection. Christie said of Sokolich, “Until I saw his picture last night on television, I couldn’t have picked him out of a lineup.”
He also said that the sort of behavior represented by Bridgegate is the exception, not the rule, within his administration and reemphasized the bipartisan nature of his campaign and the way he has operated the New Jersey government, getting things done with Democrats.
I don’t write this as particularly a Christie fan: I think he has great strengths and important weaknesses.
But what struck me the most listening to this man speak was the couldn’t-be-greater contrast between him and Barack Obama. And not just his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion.
Chris Christie expressed credible contrition and a “buck stops here” attitude for a few days of traffic issues caused by someone else who kept him in the dark and then lied to him about it.
Barack Obama has never expressed believable remorse or taken responsibility, nor held anyone else responsible, for any of his scandals and disasters. Not for the IRS targeting conservatives. Not for the DOJ targeting reporters. Not for the death of four Americans in Benghazi. Not for the deaths of more Americans due to Fast and Furious. None of these things is directly his fault, but contrast the president’s non-reaction to Governor Christie’s words on Thursday:
I didn’t know about it but it’s my responsibility because I’m the governor. So I’m taking that responsibility and taking actions appropriate with executing that responsibility in accord with what the information is today.
Seriously, can you imagine a president who has not fired anybody for any of his administration’s many scandals doing anything like what Christie did today?
Nor has Obama apologized for causing millions to lose health insurance policies (and we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg), triggering huge increases in health insurance premiums, raising deductibles, and limiting the choices of doctors and hospitals. Obamacare, the single most damaging piece of legislation in modern American history, is named for him and only passed because of him; it has his signature on it. If he didn’t know the law would do exactly what it is doing, he is a truly incompetent president. If he did know (which I believe he did) he should be profoundly apologetic, but that is impossible for the malignant narcissist who occupies the White House.
Additionally, the presumably liberal reporters at the press conference asked Chris Christie very aggressive questions such as that posed by CNN's John King: “What kind of questions are you asking of yourself?...These are people you trusted...They either thought ‘this is what the boss wanted’ or as a group they were willing to go rogue and then lie to you about it.”
Christie’s answer: “I’m heartbroken about it and I’m incredibly disappointed. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the angry stage yet but I’m sure I’ll get there. But I’m just stunned. And what does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask ‘What did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me?’ There’s a lot of soul-searching that goes around with this.”
Again, can you imagine Barack Obama having even a fraction of that introspection or public humility?
And, while they’ve been slightly braver lately, can you imagine the Washington press corps asking such tough questions of our Teflon (though it’s wearing thin) president? Can you imagine him giving an answer that takes less than 10 minutes and which actually answers a reporter who questions his character or competency or leadership? And can you imagine the fear in the reporter as to whether he would ever be called on again to ask another question?
Christie’s entire press conference was as good a response as he could have offered to the mess dropped on his head by a stupid, unscrupulous staffer, and an even better contrast to Barack Obama’s petty tyranny, his disconnectedness from the truth and from the public, and the timidity of most of those whom the nation relies on to ask him the hard questions and get the important answers.
Contrary to the hopes of liberals and the half-worried, half-hopeful reaction of staunch conservatives who simultaneously don’t entirely trust Christie but want very much to elect a Republican president in 2016, it is just as likely that Christie’s handling of this mini-scandal will help him politically as hurt him.