“I will learn things from this,” Chris Christie told me last Friday, a little more than a week after he gave the News Conference to End All News Conferences, and a few days after the cable channels covered his annual address to the legislature in Trenton as if it were Nixon waving from the helicopter. “I know I will. I don’t know exactly what it is yet that I’ll learn from it. But when I get the whole story and really try to understand what’s going on here, I know I’m going to learn things.”…

Christie’s strategy has been remarkably consistent, and more sophisticated than it might seem to the casual observer. He is a public bully and a private dealmaker, a guy who bludgeons his opponents into as weak a bargaining position as he can before staking out his own compromise behind closed doors. It’s good theater, followed often, though not always, by good policy…

“I think I’m a fairly good politician,” Christie told me, in defense of his rhetorical style. But the best at his craft learn, sooner or later, to rein in and recalibrate the things that work for them, especially if they entertain thoughts of the White House. “I think it is most likely that the next Republican nominee for president will be a governor,” Christie told me. I reminded him that in 2011 he had told me he didn’t feel ready to be president, and asked about now. “Yeah. I’m readier, if that’s a word,” Christie said…

On Friday, Christie didn’t sound like a guy who intended to revisit his style. “I’m not growing a new personality at 51,” he said. I reminded him that politicians do it all the time. “Not me, man,” he laughed. “This is it. I like who I am.”

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Party leaders are urging the governor to let go of a trademark Christie trait: his fierce loyalty to old friends and high school classmates who have risen with him in state government. It is time, they counsel, for him to recruit a more nationally savvy political team that can take him beyond Trenton to Washington. Fueling such concerns, new allegations arose on Saturday that top Christie aides had used Hurricane Sandy recovery money as a political weapon against the Democratic mayor of Hoboken, N.J…

Mr. Christie has told friends and contributors that he can weather the slings and scrutiny, even as he complains about what he sees as “piling on” by his enemies and a once-admiring news media, according to people told of his thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be associated with comments that could upset the governor or his aides…

Whatever the lasting damage to Mr. Christie’s political brand, Republicans said, the puzzling traffic imbroglio has laid bare his weaknesses: a stubborn insularity, the absence of a national infrastructure and a tendency to be flip and glib, which haunted him at the start of the bridge scandal…

“I think he needs to build a national political team,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a major Republican fund-raiser based in Northern Virginia, who noted that she is “sticking with Mr. Christie” if he runs for president.

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Over the weekend, Mr. Christie, who has appeared on MSNBC many times since taking office, angrily denounced it as a “partisan network” that is “almost gleeful in their efforts attacking” him. Christie aides have called it a “feeding frenzy.”…

Mr. Christie, who is known to be sensitive to slights, appears to be genuinely stung by the network’s coverage. But his outrage is also fueled by opportunism, Republican strategists say: The same brand of politics that appealed to the liberal anchors on MSNBC has antagonized conservatives around the country, whose support he will need to mount a White House run.

Those close to Mr. Christie say the attack on MSNBC reflects his office’s effort to assert control over a story that has quickly snowballed, attracting new allegations almost every day, catching the governor off guard. Allies of Mr. Christie sense that Democrats are now unleashing the kind of assault on him that they failed to deliver during his re-election campaign last year, which he won — in a blue state — by a landslide.

“The Democrats have been making up for lost time,” said Kevin Madden, a former campaign strategist for Mitt Romney.

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In [conservatives’] eyes, the mainstream media is the enemy. Its unrelenting coverage of Christie’s troubles over the past 10 days is generating a surprising level of sympathy for the moderate Republican Garden Stater among some conservatives who have not been fans in the past.

“I think it’s helping with the Republican grass roots,” said Glenn McCall, a Republican National Committeeman from South Carolina. “They feel [the scandal] is being overblown. There’s some solidarity, too. It doesn’t mean, if he does run in 2016, these same people would support him. Who knows what they’ll do come that time. But at least right now, there’s solidarity around the governor.”…

“He does have a lot of sympathy right now, even from people who do not like Chris Christie and under no circumstances would support him in a primary,” said Billy Simons, a tea party activist from Charleston, S.C…

“There are a lot of people in the party who hope this is a teachable moment for Christie and his political team, to realize he can’t count on the liberal media to deliver him the nomination of the presidency,” said a prominent national conservative with close ties to party activists. “If he wants to be president, he needs to start making more reliable friends at the grass roots of the party.”

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For many of Romney’s top donors, by contrast, the scandal roiling Trenton is confirmation of their worst suspicions about Christie’s behavior. The 2012 campaign had already left a bad taste in their mouths — they cite the juxtaposition his failure to appear at a Philadelphia rally 48 hours before the election and his effusive praise of President Obama’s leadership at the same time, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. “Everybody really is talking about this,” says somebody close to the Massachusetts governor. He tells me recent events have several donors ”thinking they should’ve trusted their instincts in the first place.” Donors, the Romney insider says, ”were beginning to open up to the idea of Christie, and then this happened.”

A major Romney bundler tells me the current scandal exacerbates the sense that Christie is willing to engage in “unsportsmanlike conduct” to achieve his goals. He likens Christie’s insistence during last week’s marathon press conference that “I am not a bully,” to Richard Nixon’s infamous declaration, in his hour-long question-and-answer session on the Watergate scandal, that “I am not a crook.” “Obviously, you are one,” the donor says, invoking the aphorism ”the fish rots from the head down.”…

If he comes out of this, he comes out stronger, that’s the sense,” says the Romney insider.

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“I think this story has taken a very dangerous turn for the governor.”