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
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT