EDITORIAL: Christie's convincing performance

FresnoJanuary 10, 2014 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016.

MATT ROURKE — AP

If Gov. Chris Christie had anything to do with a monster traffic jam on the nation's busiest bridge, his presidential ambitions are likely over.

If — as he categorically declared Thursday — this act of political retribution was the work of an overzealous aide without his knowledge, Christie still could have a good shot at being the Republican Party nominee in 2016.

His news conference — a performance, really — put on full display why he is attractive to voters across the political spectrum. In a Field Poll released last month, the New Jersey governor was viewed far more favorably by California voters than four other potential GOP contenders. He was the only one with a positive image among Democrats and independents.

Thursday, he spoke like a normal person, which wasn't surprising. One of Christie's greatest political gifts is that he is authentic. He said that he was "humiliated" by the "stupidity" of his advisers and was sad that they "betrayed" him. Even though he was "blindsided" by what happened, he apologized and took responsibility.

While he held forth too long — nearly two hours — Christie answered every question, some with humor and others with passion sorely lacking in politicians.

It was a vivid reminder that not all politicians are like what President Barack Obama has become — aloof and sealed off almost completely from the media (except during election campaigns).

"I am not a focus-group-tested, blow-dried candidate or governor," Christie said. Many people like that quality in him.

But voters also don't like political bullies.Christie also has developed that reputation and it's one of the reasons some people are ready to believe he was behind the bridge scandal.

The governor steadfastly had maintained that his staff had no involvement in the closure of two lanes of the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., into Manhattan.

But emails disclosed Wednesday showed that Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who was fired Thursday by Christie, had ordered the closings to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie for re-election last November. Other emails showed close aides happy about the gridlock that delayed commuters, school buses and ambulances for four days in September.

The U.S. attorney and the legislature in New Jersey are investigating, so we should know soon enough whether Christie's fingerprints are on this mess.

Voters often are intrigued by governors seeking national office because they are chief executives. But that means they're accountable for all that happens on their watch — good and bad. Christie is getting a bracing reminder of that.

 

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