The scandal involving New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, whose aides virtually shut down Fort Lee by throttling its access to the George Washington Bridge into New York City, reportedly to punish the city’s mayor for not endorsing their boss, is so classic that you could put it in a textbook on how a politician can make a developing political scandal much, much worse.
The model goes like this: aides to a governor, a rising political star, are looking to hurt the governor’s enemy. They engage in behavior that is definitely low, likely illegal, and possibly criminal. People start pointing fingers in the direction of the State House. The governor ridicules the critics. But the state legislature, controlled by the opposing party, launches an investigation and subpoenas high officials. The testimony is embarrassing. Key gubernatorial appointees quit suddenly, one labeling the evolving scandal a “distraction.” Then — inevitably, it seems — a smoking gun surfaces.
The governor apologizes. He fires someone. But people accuse him of painting himself as a victim instead of taking full frontal responsibility for the mess. Debate begins on whether his political future is toast — nay, on whether he should step down from office.
This is both the generic description of a modern political scandal and a strikingly specific account of what happened to Christie. He wanted New Jersey’s Democratic elected officials to endorse his re-election bid in order to create a display of bipartisan appeal for the benefit of his fellow Republicans. The Democratic mayor of Fort Lee declined to accommodate.
Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, contributed an e-mail that will certainly become part of the vocabulary of all scandal mavens: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Lanes were closed on the Fort Lee access to the bridge. Traffic problems, predictably, ensued.