Skip to main content

Will Jeb Bush end Christie's chances?

By Errol Louis, CNN Commentator
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Errol Louis: "Bridgegate" has hurt Christie's chances, cleared way for Jeb Bush in 2016
  • He says Christie and rising Bush both seen as moderates in fractured GOP
  • He says polls favor Bush over Christie and donors leaning toward ex-Florida governor
  • Louis: Bush faces no scandal, can appeal to Latinos on immigration issues

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Politics abhors a vacuum, and the "Bridgegate scandal" engulfing Chris Christie has severely compromised the New Jersey governor's ability to launch a campaign for president, opening a space that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, seems likely to fill.

"The idea that he's the prohibitive front-runner is over" is how one Republican strategist described Christie's plight to the conservative National Review.

At stake is the future of the Republican Party, which has been divided for several years by a simmering fight between factions -- ultra-conservative Tea Party activists and more moderate establishment figures who control key party offices.

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

Christie and Bush are both frequently mentioned as mainstream candidates that the establishment would like to see run in 2016. But Christie's status as a party favorite has faltered, while Bush appears to be on the rise.

The contrast was on display at Saturday's White House Correspondents' Dinner, the high-profile, televised black-tie event in which the nation's media and political elites take satirical jabs at one another. Nobody got rougher treatment from the podium than Christie, especially from comedian Joel McHale, the evening's emcee.

"I promise that tonight will be both amusing and over quickly -- just like Chris Christie' s presidential bid," quipped McHale, who later harped on the apparently politically motivated traffic tie-up near the George Washington Bridge that has led to the firing and resignation of top Christie aides. "Finally, a politician willing to stand up to America's commuters," deadpanned McHale.

Hillary Clinton continues to have an overwhelming lead over other possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidates. Although the former first lady and secretary of state has not said whether she'll run, a group of PACs and advocacy organizations have begun the process of raising money and aiding a hypothetical campaign. Hillary Clinton continues to have an overwhelming lead over other possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidates. Although the former first lady and secretary of state has not said whether she'll run, a group of PACs and advocacy organizations have begun the process of raising money and aiding a hypothetical campaign.
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
Potential 2016 presidential candidates Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Bush or Clinton in 2016?
Joel McHale zings Christie

Bush, by contrast, escaped with a passing mention as a top presidential contender.

Christie's bad news shows up in polls that can't be dismissed as a joke. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll of all Americans, Bush ranked at the top of a list of Republican presidential contenders with a 14% showing; Christie's was 10%. A Fox News poll taken last month shows that among Republicans, Bush has a 52% approval rating compared with Christie's 46%.

After talking with more than 24 top Republican donors, reporters from The New York Times concluded in a recent article that "some of them are signaling to Mr. Christie's camp that, should Mr. Bush enter the race, their first loyalty would be to him, not to Mr. Christie."

That's a sea change from recent years, when Christie, a prodigious fund-raiser, wielded tight control over his New Jersey donors. According to Washington Post commentator Dan Balz, when candidate Mitt Romney came seeking support, in 2011, Christie said he told him: "If you raise money in New Jersey in any kind of aggressive, organized way, it's going to make it very unlikely that I'll be able to support you."

Things have changed. With Christie hemorrhaging support, a number of New Jersey heavy hitters are now openly agonizing over whether to stick with Christie or invest in a Bush candidacy. Bush brings multiple advantages: Having a father and brother who were presidents means there are legions of Republicans, across multiple generations, who owe personal and political loyalty to the closest thing the GOP has to a royal family.

On the hot-button issue of immigration reform, Bush has staked out an independent position, calling on Republicans to move away from "harsh rhetoric" on the issue and co-authoring a book on the subject -- an implicit recognition that winning the White House in 2016 will require support from Latinos and other pro-immigration voters.

Most importantly, Bush remains untouched by scandal, while Christie must cope with a scandal that just won't go away. Last week, an attorney for David Samson, a close adviser and mentor of Christie's, announced that Samson will not answer subpoenas from a state legislative committee investigating Bridgegate, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

It's another crippling blow to Christie's presidential hopes. Samson, named by Christie to serve as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, oversaw the multibillion-dollar agency that runs the George Washington Bridge until he was forced to resign as the scandal unfolded.

Samson is the most prominent among several Christie aides who have quit or been fired and have now lawyered up. That means we'll see court fights around memos, meetings and other crucial evidence for months to come -- months during which Christie's nascent candidacy will continue to decline, leaving Bush looking like the white knight for which the Republican establishment has been waiting.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT