With Republicans having an eye on 2016 out front, making believe they care about the poor by punishing them for not being rich, Chris Christie continues desperately ducking for cover. Unfortunately for the New Jersey governor, with 18 new subpoenas in the last couple of weeks, his troubles are growing exponentially larger than himself, no small feat.
By now everyone knows about the delicious, Sopranos-worthy retribution-gone-bad debacle of a four-day traffic jam in a Jersey town at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge. Initiated by top Christie staffers ostensibly as a traffic study, the gridlock was payback for Fort Lee’s mayor failing to endorse the governor’s re-election in November. Why this was important enough to risk Christie’s ascending political fortunes is anyone’s guess, especially considering Mayor Mark Sokolich is a Democrat and a landslide victory was never in doubt.
Christie’s cringe-worthy assertion that he wasn’t “a bully” at a two-hour news conference, reminiscent of Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” fiasco back in 1973, was far from the most mind-boggling declaration during his time at the podium. The governor’s claim that he was clueless about his inner circle’s dirty tricks, learning about it when everyone else did — the day before — suggested he was either being less than honest or had spent the previous 90 days on Pluto.
The traffic jam happened in early September, emerging as a political issue almost immediately. Inquiries were made, and a couple of Christie-appointed Port Authority heads rolled as the governor’s office issued a tsunami of denials, perceiving the situation sufficiently stonewalled for the governor to joke about it, suggesting in early December that he was the “guy in the overalls”... “I actually was the guy working the cones out there.”
In both his State of the State address and inaugural speech in January, the governor seemed fresh out of the swagger that has marked his rapid political rise, timidly suggesting “mistakes were made,” insisting he was in charge without being responsible; he was misled and he was “sad” but committed to putting this incident behind him and moving on with the state’s business.
But more distractions were waiting in the wings, as another mayor, this time Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, claimed she’d been told that desperately needed money to address her city’s Hurricane Sandy devastation would be withheld until she endorsed a politically connected Christie development project. As outrage, recrimination and denial deluged the NYC media, Republican bagmen began quaking in their Gucci loafers as federal investigators headed for Sunday brunch in Hoboken.
Although rush hour traffic on a bridge between New York and New Jersey means nothing to most of the country, the larger political implications of the fiasco have the GOP’s contributor-elite re-evaluating their savior. Christie was largely seen as a legitimate challenger to odds-on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the primary means to wrest control from knuckle-draggers, committed to dragging Republicans back into the primordial ooze.
But politics is a funny thing. While you have strength and unlimited trajectory, grudges — albeit grudgingly — are buried in the shadows but never completely eradicated. Rather they are waiting, like opportunistic infections, for even a slight hiccup in the immune system. And all indications point to this infection gaining a foothold, spreading rapidly and threatening to morph into a full-blown epidemic.
Christie’s invulnerability, the resilience to weather any storm on the horizon, was further eroded when blizzard conditions and a foot of snow forced cancellation of his inaugural ball on Ellis Island, the location a symbolic gesture toward both his bipartisanship and comprehensive immigration reform. But the winter storm dubbed “Janus” was eerily portentous in its own right. The Roman god of beginnings and transitions is usually depicted as having two faces.
It’s not so difficult — at this point — to see a hazy vision of Christie’s future. Late November 2016. Two people are sharing the back seat of a black Lincoln, going nowhere on the rain-slicked twilight streets of a north Jersey port city, lamenting what might have been.
“Kid, when you were 380 pounds, you were beautiful ...”
Walt Amses is a former teacher and writer from North Calais.
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