January 9, 2014 11:39 pm

Christie’s political rehabilitation will take time

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Emails From Gov. Christie Aide Bridget Anne Kelly Tied To Ft. Lee Bridge Traffic Scandal©Getty

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: 'I’m sad. I’m a sad guy standing here'

There are no frontrunners for a US 2016 presidential election nearly three years away, but until this week, no one had done more to lift Republican spirits after the party’s 2012 loss than Chris Christie.

The plain-speaking New Jersey governor was re-elected in a landslide in last November’s gubernatorial election, in part by attracting socially-liberal, pro-immigration voters who have generally shunned Republicans in recent years.

Mr Christie made no secret of his ambitions in the poll’s aftermath, immediately taking over as head of the Republican Governors Association, a position which he set about using to lift his national profile.

But the revelation that his staff caused traffic chaos on one of the country’s busiest transport corridors, to punish a local mayor who had declined to support his re-election, has returned the focus to another side of Mr Christie.

His opponents have long claimed he is a vindictive bully, and the actions of his staff – Mr Christie insists he knew nothing of the traffic changes and denies being a bully – could not have provided greater support for such claims if they tried.

Democrats were naturally gleeful about the Republican governor’s problems. More striking was how thrilled many conservatives were about his problems.

“Am I [a] terrible person if I want to get out of the way and let the liberal media destroy Chris Christie 2016 for me?” tweeted Steve Deace, a conservative talk show host.

The pre-eminent conservative news aggregator, the Drudge Report, normally a scourge of the Democrats, has been in overdrive to chronicle Mr Christie’s shortcomings.

Mr Christie won support in New Jersey, but deeply alienated many Republicans in other parts of the country, with his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in late 2012, a month before the presidential election.

With an eye on maximising financial aid for his state, Mr Christie wholeheartedly embraced Barack Obama’s offer of help for the clean-up. Months later, he was still at it. “The president has kept every promise that he made,” he said last April.

Hurricane Sandy interrupted the election campaign at a time when Mitt Romney was edging up in the polls, and many Republicans were furious at the governor’s embrace of Mr Obama.

The enduring anger among sections of the Romney camp became evident late last year, when the Republican candidate’s campaign’s internal document vetting Mr Christie as a potential vice-presidential running mate was leaked.

According to the campaign book Double Down, Mr Christie’s background was “littered with landmines”, including defamation suits and questions about his time as the securities industry’s lobbyist and his medical history. Mr Romney in the end selected Paul Ryan.

The bridge scandal has provided an opportunity for Mr Christie’s enemies to regain their footing. A more lasting problem might be how it affects his standing with voters, and with his powerful financial backers.

Ken Langone, the founder of Home Depot, was one of a number of wealthy Republicans who implored Mr Christie to run in 2012. On Thursday, he was still standing by the governor.

“Based totally on my gut, I don’t believe there’ll be any problem raising money if Gov. Christie decides to run,” Mr Langone told Politico.

“He will be a superb candidate and he has wide attraction which always makes fundraising more successful. Most important I know he was totally unaware of this . . . whatever you choose to call it.”

John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, who was on the end of a tongue lashing from Mr Christie over delays passing an aid bill for Hurricane Sandy through Congress, was less committal.

Asked if Mr Christie was still a candidate for 2016, he replied: “I think so.”

Rehabilitation is not an event, in the form of a single press conference, but a process. On this benchmark, it will be some time before there is a clear measure of the long-term impact on Mr Christie.

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