On Wednesday, a very New Jersey political scandal over a retributive traffic jam had virtually ruined Gov. Chris Christie's (R) chances of running for president 2016. By Thursday morning, Christie was already putting the brouhaha behind him.
As the story percolated ahead of a scheduled 11 a.m. press conference, plenty of journalists, pundits, and amateur advice-givers said Christie could only save his career by firing some staff, offering a convincing apology, and taking full responsibility.
And wouldn't you know it, Christie opened his press conference like so: "I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee, and I apologize to the state legislature."
Saying he was "embarrassed and humiliated," he also announced he had fired the deputy chief of staff involved in the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, which had been implemented as political payback against a Democratic mayor. And he said he had pulled close adviser Bill Stepien from his new role with the Republican Governors Association — which Christie now heads — over his involvement in the scandal.
Christie said the behavior of the political allies involved in the spat was "completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect appropriate for the government and the people they serve." And rather than deflect the blame elsewhere, he repeatedly insisted, "I am responsible for what happened."
Christie was contrite and humble, and effectively displayed his leadership skills while appearing more genuine than your average politician. And as his press conference dragged on and on, media interest gradually waned from feverish interest to downright boredom.
Slate's Dave Weigel picked up on the media angle early Thursday, writing, "All of those Morning Joe appearances have filled up a bank of goodwill between Christie and the press," and that the week could very well end with "the national pundits who liked Christie before coming back to praise him."
Christie's biggest asset has always been his unbridled, charismatic persona. Even when sparring with reporters and yelling at teachers, he has avoided coming off as an outright jerk. For all the criticism of Christie being a bully, voters are more likely to view him as a leader and a "fighter."
Now, the bridge story could certainly come back to haunt Christie. The U.S. Attorney's office has said it will open a preliminary inquiry into the matter. And there's always the chance that Christie overstated his ignorance — he claimed "no knowledge or involvement" of the payback until Wednesday — which could do him in if proof emerges directly linking him to the scandal.
For now, though, Christie has largely mitigated the damage while simultaneously flexing his perceived strengths. Christie's presumed 2016 campaign is far from over: It's just getting started.
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