Christie’s 2016 chances ultimately won’t be hurt by ‘Bridgegate’

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, January 9, 2014

It’s been an admittedly rough 48 hours for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the wake of the “Bridgegate” scandal. As a result, many people have begun to question whether he is qualified and/or ready to be considered as a front-runner in the race for President of the United States in 2016. At the end of the day, however, should Christie decide to run and not win the nomination it won’t be because of this scandal.

Why? For starters, it needs to be remembered that the average American person have a very short memory span when it comes to major political events. A Gallup study released last month found that the issues most important to Americans in September, October and November all correlated with the current political climate at the time – government dissatisfaction during the lead-up and duration of the shutdown, and healthcare policy in advance of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Eighteen months from now, when Americans begin to consider who they want to be the Republican nominee for president, his potential opponents will knock him over”Bridgegate” but for most voters the issue won’t be make-or-break in their decision to vote for or against him.

Moreover, while Christie is ultimately responsible in part for the incident by virtue of being the chief executive of the state, his swift response to the revelation that some of his senior aides were behind the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge into New York City last year will work in his favor come 2016. Within 24 hours the governor had already fired Bridget Anne Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff who approved the closures, and forced his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, to remove himself from consideration in the upcoming race for Chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party. Stepien was also removed as a consultant for the Republican Governor’s Association, of which Christie is now the chairman.

In addition to profusely apologizing for the lane closures during a nearly two-hour press conference Thursday morning, Christie also met with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and apologized to him during a visit to the North Jersey town where the bridge is located as part of his response campaign to the scandal that afternoon. That’s far more than David Wildstein, the former head of the New York-New Jersey Port Authority, did when at the same time he pled the fifth before a state legislature panel.

To put this into perspective, Christie’s reaction is far different than that back in 2010 when he chose to stay in Disney World with his family than deal with the aftermath of a blizzard that dropped more than two feet of snow over parts of the state – an event that few people unfamiliar with Jersey politics likely know, either. Same with his taxpayer-funded helicopter rides to entertainment and sporting events and lending nearly $50,000 to a campaign aide, among others.

The “Bridgegate” scandal is actually a perfect example of why Americans on both sides of the aisle like Christie – they view him as one of the few bluntly honest, take no prisoners politicians left in the country. Voters even love that he’s not afraid to blast members of his own political party if he believes they are in the wrong, as he did almost one year ago to the day when House Republicans held up a vote on emergency funds for the Superstorm Sandy relief efforts. In fact, largely overshadowed by the controversy was the release Thursday of a Quinnipiac University poll that named Christie the “hottest politician” currently on the national stage – i.e. the politician best like by Americans across the political spectrum.

It’s likely that Christie will see his popularity dip slightly over the next few weeks, and perhaps longer among Jersey residents. But it’s highly unlikely that he would win the Garden State in November 2016, regardless of whether the voters remember “Bridgegate” or not, anyway.

In the end, should it come out that Christie was actively involved in the scandal, Christie’s career is over. If he continues to run a response campaign like he has in the past 48 hours, however, the scandal will ultimately become a small hiccup in what appears to be a promising political career for the Jersey politician.

This piece has been updated. 

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