Christie and Murdoch are following similar paths
The problem with Chris Christie, it seems, is not so much that he is a political bully who quickly turns to vindictiveness and retribution when he doesn’t get his own way. It is that our politics have been so “feminized” that the sort of manly, aggressive, healthy pugilism that Christie indulges in with his political enemies is widely considered a weakness rather than an expression of his depth of character.
There are other reasons Americans have not lifted Christie to their shoulders on learning that his people were behind the four days of jams on the George Washington Bridge to punish the Fort Lee residents for electing a Democrat. Christie simply cannot get a fair hearing on Bridgegate so long as the press refuses to acknowledge Hillary Clinton’s part in the murder of Ambassador Stephens in Benghazi.
That eccentric account of Christie’s current scandal-ridden dilemma is the view from Fox News, presided over by Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, both of whom appear to see in Christie a kindred spirit. Both believe Christie’s rough-and-tumble approach to politics and his devil-may-care attitude to his opponents, as well as the handling of his chronic obesity, show a genius for retail politics that few other Republican wannabes can match. Christie is the opposite of Willard “Mitt” Romney, whose smooth looks and awkward, alien manner caused the testosterone-fueled Murdoch and Ailes to blanch.
Before Ailes and his network muddied the waters of Bridgegate, giving every excuse for a Fox viewer to dismiss the affair as a set-up job by Christie’s opponents, Murdoch offered more tangible advice to his favorite GOP presidential hopeful. Using Twitter as a bully pulpit, Murdoch did not use all 140 characters to order Christie what to do when, after Hurricane Sandy, President Obama landed to comfort victims on the Jersey Shore.
The governor hugged and petted the president like a long-lost family dog, leaving Romney feeling betrayed — Christie had “allowed Obama to be president, not a politician” — and Murdoch fuming that such warmth and good manners towards the president would help Obama be re-elected. Murdoch instructed the governor: “Christie, while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years.” Christie duly made his peace with Murdoch by telephone and the next day gave Romney a prominent boost.
As the most electable and electorally gifted of the current Republican presidential candidates, it was little surprise that Murdoch, who likes to use his media properties to bolster amenable candidates, should pick Christie as his favorite. They have a lot in common, particularly when it comes to modus operandi. Both are permanently spoiling for a fight. No tactics are off the table, however low. And if they lose, they lash out.
Both of them pressure people to do their bidding. They allow their staffs free rein to take whatever actions are necessary to get the job done. The months to come of committee cross examinations, lawsuits, and police and federal investigations will try to establish exactly that: a direct link between the conspiracy to punish a population that took place on the approach to the George Washington Bridge and the Jersey governor.
Murdoch finds himself in an identical position in Britain, where close minions he knew intimately and trusted to protect his interests come what may are currently going through the courts, charged with ordering the phone tapping of individuals. Murdoch’s henchmen (and Rebekah Brooks) were running a protection racket in London that collated embarrassing personal information on lawmakers and celebrities — when journalists balked at the task, he hired private detectives — with the implicit threat that the victims either toe the Murdoch line and do his bidding or expect to have their dirty linen hung across his tabloid front pages.
Mostly, Murdoch’s motive was to extend his business. Whenever a member of a parliamentary media committee dared ask an awkward question about Murdoch’s near-monopoly in the press and television, let alone suggest a remedy, they found themselves traduced in big bold headlines.
Even prime ministers found themselves kowtowing to Murdoch, for fear he would smear them into oblivion. But the purpose was politics, too. As his barmy-old-geezer Twitter rants reveal, Murdoch is used to having his commands obeyed.
Personally untouched by the “feminization” of society, macho Murdoch uses retaliation to punish his enemies. Like Christie, Murdoch has set the tone of his organization, which is why Ailes is allowed to mount spiteful ad hominem assaults upon political rivals without reference to “KRM.” And why Murdoch’s London papers ran afoul of the law.
Like Murdoch, Christie does not need to spell out exactly what needs doing when opponents defy him. His aides know that somewhere a bridge needs closing or a Jersey borough needs its federally-provided Sandy funds slowed to a trickle.
In the old days, when monarchs wanted someone destroyed, they spelled it out. When Henry II could no longer bear Thomas Becket, he merely asked, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” and Becket was dead.
Neither Ailes nor Brooks have to ask Murdoch who to put on their hit lists, nor did Christie’s gang have to wait for the nod from the big man before getting out the traffic cones. Little wonder Christie is being compared to Tony Soprano. It is the rule of the mob.
Eventually, Britain rebelled against Murdoch, who is a pariah in London. The American reaction to Bridgegate suggests there is no appetite for a return to bully politics, here, either.
Once big characters like William M. “Boss” Tweed in New York and Mayor Richard J. Daley in Chicago ran cities and states like personal fiefdoms. Not any more. Even in New Jersey, where politics is a contact sport, the people have made it clear they don’t want a bully as governor.
Nor, it seems, is America in a mood for having a tough guy or a Richard Nixon at the top, though there does seem a ready audience building for a long televised hearings-fest into Bridgegate. Just what we need to fill that awkward gap between Obama’s re-election and the 2016 primaries.
Some conservatives do not yet seem to realize that Christie is toast. He cannot survive months of investigative committees, subpoenas, special prosecutors, leaks, confessions and all the paraphernalia of a wild political scandal in full flight. Even if he survives, he will be damaged goods. You can’t be that close to such blatant wrongdoing without leaving some DNA. So those, such as Murdoch, looking for a GOP candidate to represent big business should be looking elsewhere. But where?
As Greg Whiteley’s Netflix documentary on Romney’s campaign confirms, the business wing of the Republican Party has not been good at picking winners in recent times. So long as Christie could make his peace with the Tea Party — not easy after everything he has said about them, but not impossible — he was the only Republican who beat Mrs. Clinton in polls. With Christie out the way, her path to the White House appears unencumbered.
PHOTO: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to media and homeowners about the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Sandy in Manahawkin, New Jersey January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson