Dormroom Debate: Chris Christie's bridge-closing crisis
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    Unless you were sleeping under a rock, you know that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is currently embroiled in a political scandal over his staff members' decision to shut down several major bridges as political retribution against a mayor who refused to endorse Christie. While Christie himself hasn't yet been directly implicated in the piles of emails that reveal his staff's role in the bridge closures, Christie's rep as a a stand up guy who refused to play dirty party politics is being seriously scrutinized by the national media. Will this be a tale of another hubristic politician's fall from grace, or a minor political gaffe that won't hinder his path to a potential 2016 presidential nomination? Our writers debate the issue. 

    Photo by Sunny Kang/North by Northwestern

    I’m a Medill sophomore from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.

    I suppose it’s never too early for the pundits to be discussing 2016. Here we sit, 34 months away from the next presidential election, and we’re already talking about popular candidates’ stock rising and falling. 

    Enter Chris Christie, who finds himself wading through the first major political scandal of 2014. While his individual culpability in “Bridgegate” has not yet surfaced, his forward momentum towards the 2016 Republican nomination certainly took a hit. But will this auspicious start to 2014 doom Christie moving toward the future? I don’t think so, at least not irreparably.

    First off, Christie has taken care of business to deal with the aftermath. Rather than vehemently proclaim his staff’s innocence and start a media firestorm, he quickly fired many of his top aides who bear the evidential brunt of the crime. Furthermore, his nearly two-hour apologetic dialogue with the press will go a long way toward patching up the hard feelings. If it turns out that Christie himself had no real hand in the closing of those lanes, then his handling of the scandal could actually spin positive for the future.

    Also, the timing of “Bridgegate” breaking could not be more advantageous: Less than a week later, the Senate (a Democratic one, I might add) released a report saying that the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi were avoidable, and a fault of the State and Defense departments. This report substantially implicates Hillary Clinton, the then-Secretary of State and current Democratic frontrunner for 2016. So, it looks like both candidate hopefuls will have the next two years to move beyond these damaging scandals. The difference between Clinton and Christie’s debacles however, is that four American lives were lost in Benghazi. Not to take anything away from the illegality of “Bridgegate,” but its effects pale in comparison when deaths and national security are involved.

    Finally, I just don’t see any of the other current Republican hopefuls gaining enough ground via this scandal to seriously challenge Christie’s commanding lead as the favorite. Jeb Bush will always be fighting an uphill battle trying to be the third member of his family to get elected. Plue, Rand Paul had his own controversy a few months ago when rumors fluttered that portions of his most recent book were substantially plagiarized. 

    In the early going of the 2016 presidential race, no extremely strong candidates have emerged on the Republican side, so for the time being, I think Christie retains his frontrunner status. His handling of the “Bridgegate” proceedings has been admirable thus far, and his decision to immediately speak candidly with the press will help him immensely down the road. As the national scandal discussion transitions to the recent Benghazi bombshell dished out by the Senate, it will be Hillary Clinton and President Obama in the hot seat. 

    Photo by Quentin Heilbrone/North by Northwestern

    I’m a terminally undecided Weinberg sophomore from a little place called Manhattan. Politically speaking, I'm all over the map, with a deep-seated hatred of party orthodoxy and an obnoxiously pragmatic streak, but I average out somewhat left of center, especially on economic issues.I personally believe that the best way to truly understand an issue is to be able to understand the arguments made by those with whom you disagree. Nuance is so often and so easily thrown away in favor of alarmist donation pleas and sound-byte sloganeering, and it's making our political process more toxic by the day.

    Chris Christie deserves an Oscar. I’m not much of a film aficionado (at least compared to so many other Northwesterners), but the gutsy governor’s awe-inspiring performance as a crusader against corruption and general political slime left me absolutely stunned at his clear natural talent for impersonating just about anyone. Fostering a culture of incredibly petty revenge and clear abuses of power while talking big about his reform agenda was a brilliant accomplishment for such a young rising thespian, and I’m sure that in the years to come, he will have many repeat performances.

    Snark aside, what happened with Christie and the Fort Lee lane closings is not only a horrible scandal for any politician, but a scandal that cuts someone like Christie especially deeply. Mitt Romney or Rick Perry might have had an easier time dealing with this media blowback, but as a politician who’s built up his brand as an anti-politician (his reactionary press conference included him saying “I am not a focus group tested, blow-dried candidate” - this is a guy who knows his schtick and knows it well), Christie has set a higher standard for himself. The image that created those standards made him a star, but it also made him weaker than the average politician against allegations of sketchy deals and questionable ethics. Those in his office proven tied to this were not just a few renegade interns - his Deputy Chief of Staff has already been canned over it, and it’s a stretch to say that Christie could have been completely unaware of the abuse of power that was occurring under his nose.

    All that said, while the substance of Christie’s response is a little bit hard to believe, its delivery couldn’t have been better. He’s gold in front of a camera, and he knows it. While so many politicians do their hemming and hawing apology dances, Christie cut straight to the point right out of the gate, beginning the conference by saying, “I come out here to this office where I've been many times before and I've come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the state legislature.”

    But he never actually took blame for it himself. His apologies were on behalf of his office, not him personally. Nonetheless, they did help him look as though he truly was as irate about this issue as his opponents. Of course, if documents come into light that undeniably link the bridge closures to his orders, his blunt denials will come back to haunt him in the same way that George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner wound up becoming nothing more than a sad punchline.

    At this point, there’s not much to do on that front except wait to see what, if anything, the state of investigations uncovers about Christie’s involvement. The stories of Christie's political death are extrmely premature, as they all depend on a connection that has not yet technically been made. So for anyone ready to celebrate his demise, my advice is to save the party hats for later. By choosing to deny all culpability while punishing everyone in his office currently publicly linked to the scandal, Christie is taking a bet that there’s nothing out there that could prove that he was personally behind anything. If he loses, he’s in deep, deep trouble.

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