Where Does Chris Christie Go from Here?

by Jim Geraghty

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Where Does Chris Christie Go from Here?

This just handed to me: Chris Christie’s press conference is still going on.

Okay, not really. And large swaths of it seemed to hit just the right notes of sincerity, embarrassment, contrition and outrage of the actions of the governor’s aides. But . . . we’re left with a guy who had not one bad apple, but several, doing terrible things — that theses bad apples must have believed served Christie’s purposes, or else they’re psychotic saboteurs — and Christie being oblivious to it all. Christie may not be the villain here, but he’s not the hero — and every once in a while Thursday, he seemed a little too focused upon his victimization by his staff. No, the real victims are those Fort Lee commuters and the kids stuck on school buses.

Here’s Hugh Hewitt and Mark Steyn, discussing the consequences:

Mark Steyn: . . . A woman died because the ambulance couldn’t get to her in time, and so she’s dead. And so for me, the important question is not whether Chris Christie can do sufficient damage control to position himself well for the New Hampshire primary or whatever, but how we can stop political staffers from being so myopic in their view of what their job is that they wind up killing American citizens, because when American political staffers are essentially jerking the citizenry around to the point of death, then I think that’s the larger problem.

Hugh Hewitt: Well, that does connect us up to Benghazi, but I don’t think it’s been established, yet, Mark, that she would have lived but for the G.W. closure. I mean, if that’s the case, even the crazy Ashleigh Banfield, who was talking about felony murder today, I mean, way, way out ahead of the story, would be justified.

Mark Steyn: No, no, no, no. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about prosecuting the deputy chief of staff for felony murder or manslaughter or whatever. But I’m simply saying, you know New York/New Jersey. I was in Manhattan, I think it was last year, for the paperback launch of After America, and we were doing a television interview in New Jersey. So the car comes, and it takes two hours to get me to a studio just across the river in New Jersey. At the best of times, a New York–New Jersey commute involving a bridge or tunnel is not a great thing. So to have political staffers actually making it worse for political reasons gets to the heart of what’s wrong, what’s so upside down about politics in this country, and just to back to, you know, it hasn’t been definitively confirmed that she would have lived if they had got to her, in other words, you’re saying that by delaying the ambulance getting to her, it doesn’t, that did not necessarily prove the fatal part of whatever happened to this woman. That’s the wrong way to look at it. These people are supposed to be making the bridge from New York to New Jersey better. That’s why there’s government. That’s the point of government. Government isn’t there for private score settling. Government is supposed to do those things that only government can do, like arranging a transportation system between two states that makes it possible for an ambulance to get to a sick woman in time.

Hugh Hewitt: This, I agree with.

Rick Wilson: “The Acela Republican will always be betrayed by the people who create the Acela Republican.”

But Michael Graham walks away from Christie’s press conference thoroughly impressed:

Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire are unlikely to lose any sleep over the idea of a nominee whose staff enjoys making New Jersey Democrats unhappy.

“I don’t want a Republican ‘Tony Soprano’ who plays rough,” said no GOP primary voter ever.

The liberal media’s desperation to take Christie down just drives up his approval among conservatives. Democrat attacks on Christie merely give Republicans the chance to mock the left for being more outraged over two lanes of traffic than over four dead Americans in Benghazi.

Christie has been given two gifts: The opportunity to look presidential (Hurricane Sandy) and the opportunity to show how he handles mistakes. Assuming his lengthy litany of specifics yesterday about his involvement (or lack thereof) in “Bridge-Gate” was accurate, he’s handled both well.

The story certainly isn’t over yet. But if the facts are as presented, then what we saw yesterday was that rarest of creatures: A Republican politician who is good at politics.

You’ll hear a lot of arguments about whether Christie helped set up a culture within his administration that encouraged this. It’s a perfectly fair question — but his critics over on the other side of the aisle ought to acknowledge the culture that cultivated the IRS abuses, the dishonesty about the Obamacare promises, the culture at the State Department that ignored the warnings about Benghazi, the culture at the Justice Department during Fast & Furious, the culture of accountability and wise fiscal management at the General Services Administration and its conferences . . . 

Mollie Hemingway makes perhaps the best lesson of this mess:

Abuse of power is a completely expected result of government authority. That goes triple for Chicago, New Jersey and the federal government. It’s not our fault. As Samuel Johnson’s Imlac said in “Rasselas,” “No form of government has yet been discovered by which cruelty can be wholly prevented. Subordination supposes power on the one part, and subjection on the other, and if power be in the hands of men, it will sometimes be abused.”

Knowing that essentially all men having power ought to be mistrusted, this leaves us with no other option but to restrain politicians’ ability to make our lives nightmares. Mostly this means restraining our government. Anything that government touches, it can use against us in ways large and small. Perhaps we’d do a better job of keeping politicians in line if the size and scope of government wasn’t so expansive.

It also means demanding transparency over government actions. We know about these conversations out of New Jersey because Democratic lawmakers there subpoenaed the documents. It would be nice to have the conversations that led to the shuttering of the WWII Memorial or the IRS’ actions against political opponents, but our federal government is taking its sweet time responding to Freedom of Information Act and Congressional requests on these.

To me, the real key of whether Republicans should give Christie serious consideration for the 2016 nomination is what he does with all this popularity he’s accumulated. What does he want to do, and what can he accomplish, in that second term? Is he just waiting around until he can kick off the presidential campaign? Or will he be able to enact reforms that the rest of America would want to see enacted on the national scale?