Trafficking in Politics

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

How did Chris Christie do today? Will “Bridgegate” pass? Larry J. Sabato is a veteran politico watcher, director of the Center for Politics, and professor of politics at the University of Virginia. He gives his take to National Review Online.

KJL: What did you make of Chris Christie’s press conference today? What was the best and worst of it? 

SABATO: Overall, Christie did an impressive job. He answered many of the questions and doubts that people had asked and raised about the incident. He withstood withering press fire for about two hours, and it’s always good to know a candidate or governor can make it through. It lends credibility to his claims.

The caravan moves on unless evidence emerges that Christie did not tell the full truth today. That’s not to say there won’t be lingering consequences.

KJL: How does it compare to press conferences in history? 

SABATO: The only two precedents that came immediately to mind were Geraldine Ferraro’s 1984 VP-family finances session and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater presser in 1994. But I’m sure I just haven’t remembered all of them.

KJL: How important is this scandal?

SABATO: If nothing comes out to contradict Christie on his major assertions, the scandal won’t do long-term damage of a severe nature. If the various investigations and legal actions to come uncover substantially more that involves Christie, it will matter a great deal.

KJL:  Do Americans care about traffic on the George Washington Bridge?

SABATO: The reason this mattered is because everyone could identify with being in traffic jams — the frustration, the missed appointments, and so on. To think that your jam for three days running was caused by one politician attempting to stick it to another would be infuriating — and confirm people’s worst view of politics.

KJL:  What does this mean for his second term? For the 2016 primary?

SABATO: Again, in New Jersey, given his 60 percent mandate, Christie should be fine as long as there are no new serious revelations. For 2016, I can think of two effects, one positive and one negative for Christie.  First, the positive: Partisans look for a standard-bearer that won’t wilt during the inevitable crises that engulf a campaign and, if elected, a presidency. Christie’s performance was reassuring on this score.

But every opponent Christie has in 2016 will use Bridgegate. They’ll say, “You mean you didn’t know what your own campaign manager and an aide in your inner family circle was doing? If you can’t run a governor’s office, what makes you think you can run the Oval Office, where things are infinitely more complex?” And there is the script for some TV ads you’ll see in the primaries.

KJL: What’s his greatest advantage? Greatest liability?

SABATO: Two sides of the same coin. He’s pugnacious, straightforward, no-nonsense. But he has a tendency to be too brash and argumentative, especially with relatively powerless, if irritating, citizen-questioners. It isn’t dignified or gubernatorial. But then, I’m a Virginian.

KJL: Would you be shocked if he did not run for the Republican nomination?

SABATO: I’m too old to be shocked by anything in politics. They’re never in until they say so, and they are only one unexpected press conference away from dropping out.

KJL: Will we ever not add “gate” to a scandal description?

Sabato: Not in my lifetime. Perhaps when the Watergate generation passes away. And I’m in no hurry since I’m a member.

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