New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has found the George Washington Bridge in his way on the road to a potential 2016 presidential run. Right now, it’s still an open question whether he’ll get over it.
Thursday’s marathon news conference was certainly an important moment in that journey. The heretofore 2016 Republican frontrunner apologized and took responsibility for members of Team Christie exacting political revenge on the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., by closing lanes to the nation’s busiest bridge in September, causing major traffic snarls.
“In terms of this particular incident, today was a huge step in overcoming it if everything he said holds up and there are no new revelations,” said Dan Hill, once a senior adviser to former New Mexico governor and 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Hill heads a Washington, D.C., communications strategy shop.
“It took too long,” Hill said of the months that have gone by since the allegations first surfaced. “People were saying he should have done this yesterday. I said he should have dealt with this last year.”
So it was the least the governor had to do at this point if he hoped to maintain his political viability for a 2016 run. The smoking-gun emails that implicated a now former aide and some ex-Christie political appointees obviously demanded more than the brief written statement he issued Wednesday.
But Hill’s point about the importance of no new revelations popping up is key: With the state legislature in full investigation mode and the U.S. attorney’s office conducting a preliminary probe, it might be astonishing if more disturbing facts about political retaliation by Team Christie don’t emerge.
That leaves Christie, who has been masterful at controlling his image until now, at the mercy of factors beyond his control.
Meanwhile, the scandal has given his would-be political opponents in both the major parties plenty to work with.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is also thought to be considering a 2016 White House run and who is popular with the very Tea Party voters who mostly distrust Christie, had fun Thursday at the New Jersey governor’s expense.
“I know how angry I am when I’m in traffic and I’ve always wondered, ‘Who did this to me?’ ” Paul said with a smile, when asked about the Christie scandal as he left a White House event.
This is just a taste of what Christie has ahead of him in the weeks and months to come as Bridgegate plays itself out. He can still get past the bridge — so long as there are no more explosive revelations.
But even if there aren’t, Christie’s political opponents won’t make it an easy ride.
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