NJ politicos on Christie aide fired over Bridgegate: She's always followed the chain of command

Inconclusive but interesting as a breadcrumb to tide us over until Bridget Kelly ends up in front of a microphone. I read the NYT piece about five minutes after watching Christie-friendly Democrat Mika Brzezinski, whose show has had him on as a guest many times, say, “we know Chris Christie and we know that he would have known.” (Scarborough disagreed.) Given the rap on Christie for petty slights towards pols who’ve crossed him and the comparative surprise among Kelly’s acquaintances that she would have spearheaded something like Bridgegate herself, I’m more eager than ever for her to sit down in front of that microphone.

Although I really don’t know why. If it happens at a state legislative hearing, she’s bound to take the Fifth, no?

[F]riends, Trenton operatives and people who have recently been in touch with Ms. Kelly said that the portrait of her that had emerged — as a vengeful rogue operative — did not square with the woman they knew. And while they were careful not to discuss with her what happened, let alone ask why, they said that her actions were highly uncharacteristic for someone who had always been a loyal soldier, but never a rule-breaker

At first glance, nothing about Ms. Kelly’s life — not her strict Catholic upbringing; her close-knit extended family; her decision to send her children to the same Catholic schools she attended in her hometown, Ramsey; or her fierce loyalty to her political mentors — would suggest anything but a dutiful, behind-the-scenes role player.

“She follows the chain of command,” said a friend who, like nearly everyone contacted for this story, insisted on anonymity to avoid being caught up in the continuing investigations. “She’s not a cowboy.”…

Even now, after Mr. Christie’s denunciation of her, friends of Ms. Kelly said she sounded as devoted to him as ever.

It says “at first glance” because the article goes on to cite other Jersey pols who say Kelly seemed to change once she made Christie’s inner circle, becoming more “brusque” and insular and seemingly enjoying the payback she was dishing out. Peggy Noonan spitballed the same possibility in her column the other day: Give a low-ranking political hack a taste of real power and there’s no telling how they’ll behave. Some might revert to acting the way they think they’re supposed to act from having watched too many movies about hardball politics. But in a way, that brings us full circle. If Kelly was building a reputation for bareknuckle politics, how come the governor supposedly didn’t know about it? Was Kelly buzzed on power in her new role or was it, as Christie’s critics suggest, a culture of bullying rivals in the governor’s office that led her to think closing lanes on the bridge was okay? Kelly as fierce loyalist and as power-tripping enforcer aren’t mutually exclusive narratives; on the contrary, the more loyal she is, the more Christie could have trusted her to quarterback something like Bridgegate knowing that she wouldn’t roll over on him even if they got caught and he had to scapegoat her. It sounds from the NYT piece, in fact, like she won’t point the finger at him no matter what. That’s smart practice for someone who works in politics professionally but frustrating for the rest of us who want to know the truth.

Tangentially, I wonder if the beating Christie’s taking from his pals in the media lately will nudge him back to the right a bit before 2016. There have been lots of comparisons this week to how the media turned on McCain, another Republican they seemingly loved until he got in their way to the White House, but McCain didn’t learn his lesson about the limits of bipartisanship until the 2008 campaign itself. Christie’s learning early. If he was planning on carrying his brand as a nominally Republican but functionally independent centrist into battle in 2016 thinking that the media would carry him on their shoulders, it’s time for a change of plan. He can still be the centrist he is, but framing himself as an enemy of the media would help him a little with grassroots righties — not enough to win their votes in the primary but maybe enough to get them to turn out for him in the general if he’s the nominee.