Memo to Chris Christie: They hate you.
If you don’t know who “they” are, you haven’t been watching the news or reading the papers.
Usually, it takes winning the GOP presidential nomination for a Republican media darling to experience such an onslaught of gleefully negative press coverage. John McCain was the straight-talking maverick right up until the moment he effectively clinched the nomination in 2008 — immediately triggering a thinly sourced New York Times report insinuating an affair with a lobbyist.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has gotten his disillusioning out of the way early, if he needed it. An occupational hazard of a certain kind of Republican is wanting to be loved by the wrong people. If the past week hasn’t cured Christie of that tendency, nothing will.
This is not to say that “Bridgegate” is, to use the left’s favorite term for any Obama-administration scandal, “a faux scandal.” The abuse of power it involves is genuinely outrageous and, since Christie is a prominent potential presidential candidate, one that legitimately deserves national attention. But it isn’t Watergate or the Lewinsky affair. Christie is governor, not president, of New Jersey.
At least the episode has given MSNBC a second purpose in its broadcast life. In addition to calling people racist, it now exists to obsess over Bridgegate.
Chris Hayes had an hourlong 11 p.m. special the other night. Perhaps Bridgegate, just as the Iran hostage crisis spawned the late-night news show “Nightline,” will spin off a new late-night MSNBC program devoted to investing inordinate emotional and intellectual energy in traffic-related political scandals.
In their Bridgegate analysis, Rachel Maddow and her fellow MSNBC-er Steve Kornacki have concluded that Christie aides may have sought to bring a $1 billion development abutting the George Washington Bridge to a halt with a couple of rows of traffic cones. Hey, stranger things have happened, and we still don’t know the exact motivation behind the bogus traffic study. But so far, Maddow and Kornacki have failed to meet the most basic evidentiary standard of, you know, marshaling some evidence. They could just as easily speculate that Team Christie hoped to poison the entire population of Fort Lee with the fumes of idling cars.
In a similarly breathless spirit, pundits have been declaring Christie’s presidential hopes over. They are following the lead of the New York Daily News, which judiciously declared “Fat Chance Now, Chris.”
Bridgegate inarguably hurts Christie. It blunts the momentum from his crushing re-election victory. It opens him up to intense investigative scrutiny. It makes his political persona problematic — it will now be harder for him to strike back against hecklers in classic Christie style without validating the “bully” charge.
But over? Assuming Christie isn’t exposed as a liar, that’s silly. If the Fort Lee caucuses were a key event in the Republican nomination fight and took place next month, the governor might have an insuperable problem. Fortunately for Christie, Manchester, N.H., is a couple of hundred miles away, and the First in the Nation primary won’t be held for two years.
The idea that Christie is over depends on people caring about the scandal more rather than less over time, and core Republican voters nationally caring more about it than random people in New Jersey.
The new Quinnipiac poll of New Jersey voters shows Christie getting one of his lowest “bully” scores since the public-opinion outfit started asking the question about him in 2010. By 54-40, more people consider him a leader than think him a bully. Although the governor’s approval rating is down to 55 percent from 68 percent last July, 67 percent think he can work with Democrats in the Legislature, and 55 percent believe he cares about ordinary people.
These aren’t the ratings of a dead man walking. But that’s not going to stop some of Christie’s erstwhile friends from merrily burying him alive and dancing a jig on his premature grave.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.