“Mr. Rove has grown so controversial among some conservatives,” the NYT wrote recently, citing GOP sources, “that candidates worry that donors will not contribute to a super PAC if it is connected to [Rove’s group American] Crossroads.” You trust a guy in that position, whose personal brand is now sufficiently toxic among righties that it can alter fundraising battle plans, to have a sharp read into the thinking of tea partiers, don’t you?
On the other hand, he’s not totally wrong. I noticed over the weekend how conservative media, including columnists, are starting to pay attention to the amount of coverage Bridgegate got in its first flush versus the coverage Obama’s IRS scandal received initially. No less a tea partier than Palin, while noting that what Christie’s team did is “atrocious,” was quick to add that his sins pale next to O’s. That’s the key to damage control for him on the right: Play up every available contrast with Obama, from the gravity of Obama’s misdeeds to the partisan skew in media coverage to the quick action he took to punish the guilty staffers versus Obama’s reluctance to fire anyone. He’s past the point of earning any “street cred” with conservatives but pointing out their common enemies on the left will naturally make some people on the right more reluctant to use Bridgegate against him.
Problem is, he can’t follow that strategy yet. It’s still too early, and the scandal too shady, for Christie to shift into victim mode now. Case in point:
New documents related to a traffic jam planned by a member of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) staff show for the first time how furiously Christie’s lieutenants inside the Port Authority worked to orchestrate a coverup after traffic mayhem engulfed Fort Lee last year.
Inside the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Christie’s top appointees neglected furious complaints from Fort Lee’s police chief as well as from angry rush-hour commuters. One woman called asking why the agency was “playing God with people’s jobs.”
The Republican governor’s appointees instructed subordinates to stonewall reporters who were asking questions. They even ordered up an actual “traffic study” to chronicle the impact and examine whether closing the lanes permanently might improve traffic flow. The study’s conclusion: “TBD.”
Jersey Democrats are threatening to subpoena Bridget Kelly, the Christie staffer fired for sending the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” e-mail. Christie’s own timeline of when he first heard about those traffic problems has changed, although whether that’s an incriminating inconsistency or just a memory lapse remains to be seen. And now, as Ed noted earlier, the feds are sniffing around whether he misused funds appropriated for Sandy relief by giving the tourism ad bid to a contractor that featured him and his family in their spots. Maybe all of that will evaporate, leaving Christie free to argue that he was the target of a media witch hunt that President Bambi never had to endure. But even if it does, most tea partiers would, I think, react by making the point Mollie Hemingway made the other day: Namely, however trivial Christie’s scandal is vis-a-vis O’s, it reflects the same tendency by underlings to damage a political opponent by hurting his constituents that we saw from O with the IRS scandal and the national park closures during the shutdown. The scale of the scandals is different and media partisanship is what it is, but if you want something new and fresh in 2016, why choose a guy whose administration proved that it’s not above Chicago-style hardball retaliation and whose 2016 platform will be less about limiting the reach of government than about making it work “better”?