Skip to main content

Christie's rising star now a target

By Timothy Stanley
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Timothy Stanley: With bridge scandal, Chris Christie's rising star is tarnished
  • E-mails between Christie operatives paint lane closures as political payback
  • He says voters may well see Christie as bullying kingpin using government power to hurt them
  • Stanley: Dems, conservatives who want Christie to lose now have stick to beat him with

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- Politics is a cruel road. One minute you're sailing along the open highway, winning elections, keynoting political conventions. Next minute you're accused of something politically dirty and you're stuck in the gridlock of scandal.

Let's consider New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who in November was "the GOP's lone superstar." That was how I described him after he won re-election by 22 points. But, I added, his "mixed record in office may come back to haunt the governor and be used against him." Two months later, and in a slightly different context than I would have expected, this appears to be coming true.

In September 2013, lanes were closed on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. At first it was dismissed as a "traffic study" and Christie turned early accusations that he had something to do with it into a political joke. ("I worked the cones, actually," Christie said, deflecting a question at a news conference last month. "Unbeknownst to everybody I was actually the guy out there, in overalls and a hat.")

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

But e-mails obtained on Wednesday morning confirm that it wasn't so funny, and the closure actually appears to have been an act of retribution against a local Democratic mayor. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy on Christie's senior staff, in an e-mail to David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.

This led to long traffic jams and safety hazards, none of which apparently bothered Wildstein. In one exchange, a person whose name has been redacted from the e-mails and text messages wrote to Wildstein that he was worried about children on school buses, and Wildstein replied, "They are the children of Buono voters," a reference to Barbara Buono, Christie's opponent in his last election. What an ugly mind Wildstein must have.

Traffic snarl delayed EMS, official says

Christie doesn't appear to be personally, directly linked to the decision to close the lanes, but the story hurts him anyway. The involvement of his staff contradicts his claims that they were innocent, and voters are only going to see this as an affirmation of certain prejudices that they might hold against the New Jersey kingpin.

N.J. Mayor rips Chris Christie (Part 1)
N.J. Mayor rips Chris Christie (Part 2)
Did Christie know about traffic scandal?

The Garden State has a reputation for hardball machine politics (it was the state of the legendary Democratic boss, Frank Hague), colored by TV portrayals of corruption and crime ("The Sopranos," "Boardwalk Empire"). And Christie has an image of being a bit of a bully, of laughing down opponents.

Jonathan Chait, in New York Magazine, writes "The bridge story itself, while small in nature, reveals a political culture around Christie of people who have no business holding power." He has a point. Democrats have alleged that Wildstein was paid $150,000 a year for a job that, mysteriously, had no job description and for which he has failed to release his resume.

But the real reason why the scandal resonates for so many is that it involves sitting in traffic. That's something all Americans do far too much of, so they can immediately put themselves in the seats of those poor saps stuck on the road. Incidentally, there is evidence that ambulances were slowed down, too. In at least two cases, response times were doubled.

Fort Lee mayor questions Christie's involvement in 'venomous' bridge closures

Are Christie's presidential ambitions dashed? Not necessarily. He's a resourceful politician and it's still many months before campaigning starts in earnest. But now his opponents have a stick to beat him with. Best of all, it's an anti-government stick. If Republicans stand for anything right now, it's opposing the ability of government to mess with the individual's life -- and here we have a classic example of politicians taking revenge on each other at the expense of the average citizen.

Even if Christie deflected the criticism of GOP candidates like Marco Rubio or Rand Paul (and he remains a popular man who won a big blue state), he would still have to face Democrats in November 2016 empowered by this story to say to the electorate, "He's not the nice guy next door. He's a bad man whose staff slowed down ambulances." As Andrew Sullivan put it, "He has been revealed as a deeply petty man, willing to sacrifice the public good to pursue narrow political vendettas -- not exactly a qualification for a president. But he has also repeatedly denied all of this. Is he a bully? Or a liar? Or both?"

Whatever the answer, the bridge to nowhere story has put a puncture in Christie's tire. Liberals who fear him and conservatives who don't trust him will take pleasure in that.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT