Christie's woes spark Republican freakout
The stuff Republicans are saying about Chris Christie ain't very pretty. Tuesday's gubernatorial swear-in was supposed to christen his presidential launch, but politics is a cruel and fickle business, and party regulars tend to drift away when they smell blood in the water.
Christie was supposed to be the big dog in the '16 White House hunt, the guy who'd pull the big donor money and save the GOP from its intramural strife, the "electable" candidate who'd snatch some blue states and draw enough Democrats and independents to actually win the national popular vote - something the GOP has done exactly once in the last six presidential elections. Indeed, Christie was the only Republican hopeful who seemed competitive in the polls with Hillary Clinton.
But not anymore.
In the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal, and even before the U.S. Attorney's office began to probe allegations that his regime threatened to withhold federal Sandy funds from Hoboken unless the mayor said yes to a Christie-favored redevelopment project, the governor's national poll numbers - as measured by NBC News/Marist, the Pew Research Center, and Quinnipiac University - have all gone south. And since we're only at the start of what promises to be a year-long scandal investigation slog, it's hard to see how Christie can return to golden boy status.
But don't take my word for it; plenty of Republicans are saying it, too. As GOP media strategist Rick Wilson writes in Politico, "those (poll) drops are hard to reset, both in New Jersey and nationally, largely because Christie now looks a lot more like a typical politician." The scandals suggest "something ugly inside Christie's world...either he built and tolerated this kind of political culture, or he was ignorant of it."
At least Wilson is willing to go on record by name. Most of Christie's Republican detractors are dissing him anonymously - which isn't particularly courageous, but that's how the game is typically played. And their remarks credibly suggest that Christie, sans halo, is now just one of the boys on a shifting Republican playing field.
A Republican strategist tells the conservative National Review, "The idea that he's the prohibitive front-runner is over." The scandals have confirmed many Republicans' worst suspicions about Christie; as a result, this strategist says, some donors are "getting wobbly." And a GOP fundraising bigwig tells National Review that Christie's claims of innocence are irrelevant because "the fish rots from the head down."
Meanwhile, on the Buzzfeed website, a Republican fundraising operative says "there are definitely people jumping ship." Why? Because, according to a Republican super PAC guy, "Everyone thinks there's probably a 60 percent chance the other shoe will drop...My gut is that (investigators) will probably find something else" - something that further exposes Christie's "culture in the office." And the super PAC guy doesn't think the Christie culture will play well with Republicans nationally: "What's acceptable in New Jersey may be completely unacceptable in North Dakota."
Some Republicans think that a 60 percent shoe-drop is a lowball estimate. Strategist Keith Appell tells Buzzfeed that establishment GOPers "are hoping against hope there aren't more shoes to drop." Appell actually hopes that Christie goes down; as a tea-party conservative, Appell thinks Christie is way too moderate. Indeed, the Republican right is glad that Christie has been wounded, because the scandals undercut the "electability" argument that they detested in '12 when it was invoked as a pitch for Mitt Romney. If Christie spends this year on defense, the Republican right will be more emboldened to tout a conservative alternative for '16.
Can Christie win back the wobblers? In theory, yes. But the subpoenas have only begun to flow, and Christie's defenders have struggled for rhetorical traction.
Party regular Haley Barbour, the ex-Mississippi governor, has tried to knock down the Hoboken allegations by pointing out that "this is a lady mayor." (Hence, the GOP Guide to Gender: A mayor who happens to be a man is called "mayor." A mayor who happens to be a woman is called "lady mayor.") Christie's flak says the boss is being persecuted by MSNBC, which broke the Hoboken story on Saturday; as the flak put it, "MSNBC is a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie" - a hilarious complaint, given the fact that MSNBC (and Morning Joe in particular) has been glorifying Christie for years, touting him as the Republican most likely to save his party.
The slow pace of the probes will likely bleed him further, and sow more panic within the party. Who else could run a competitive national race, anyway? Ted Cruz, a laughingstock outside the right-wing bubble? Marco Rubio, who ran from his own immgration reform when the right screamed? Rand Paul (insert joke here)? Scott Walker and John Kasich, who'd need umpteen bucks to build national profiles and woo crossover voters? Jeb Bush, whose own mother doesn't want him to run?
One Republican operative even tells Buzzfeed, "You know what a lot of (donors) say to me? I think we need Mitt back."
Now that's what I call panic.
And speaking of Republican golden boys, here's the entertaining 14-count federal indictment of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who, a mere 18 months ago, was short-listed for Mitt's ticket. Give it a read, if only for its tale of tacky corruption. As my mother would say, "It's a scream."
Gee. If only Planned Parenthood had given the guy Rolex watches, clothes, lavish loans, golf clubs, and private plane rides, then perhaps the average Virginia woman would not be forced to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound before getting an abortion.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1