Occasionally in politics, ego-driven windbags who have created auras of inevitability around themselves fall to earth. Their balloons burst, the wheels come off their wagon, the wind goes out of their sails. But they are the last people in the room to get the joke, so evidentually fraudulent that they think they're wearing a custom-tailored twill suit with a snappy designer necktie when they step to the podium at a rally but people in the audience see an overbearing jerk wearing boxer shorts and a sweat-stained t-shirt several sizes too small with an all-day sucker and not a microphone in their hand. And so it is with Chris Christie.
Politix Update has paid especial attention to Christie. We love the Garden State, as wild, crazy and idiosyncratic as it can be, not to mention being kind of schizophrenic as it is sandwiched between Philadelphia and New York.
And New Jersey is hands down the most corrupt state in the union, with politicians seldom out of the news for all the wrong reasons. (Move over Louisiana, you're bush league by comparison.) So when Christie vaulted from being a tough-on-crime-and-corruption U.S. attorney in Newark to the Statehouse in Trenton, we knew that it would be only a matter of time before the newly-minted Republican governor became mired in a Superfund site-sized cesspool of politics and the attendant intrigue, and his squeaky-clean image would become tarnished.
How wrong we were. This is because Christie brought to the job a predilection for playing dirty that was awesome by even New Jersey standards, and in one and a half terms he has proven to be the most corrupt and ethically challenged denizen of the Garden State since Richard "Iceman" Kuklinski. (You can look it up.)
Christie, however, was adept at that aura of inevitability thing, and early in his first term began talking up what a swell alternative he would be to the off-the-rack conservatives who were driving the Republican Party even deeper into the national electoral wilderness. He graciously refused to run for president in 2012 and said he would bide his time. (Actually, he knew he didn't have a woodchuck's chance in a Pine Barrens wildfire to be nominated, let alone elected.)
But 2016 would be different, and so Christie waddled onto the national stage this past spring and set about burnishing his tough-guy image with statements like "If you’re ready to start offending people in order to achieve a greater goal, you’ve found the right guy. I'm here to help offend people with you," and threatening to punch out school teachers because their union endorsed Hillary Clinton, perhaps because of his harsh and disdainful treatment of public employees back home, including cops and firefighters, and his repeatedly broken promises to fully fund their pension fund.
Prospective voters on the stump have been underwhelmed by Christie, his seamy past (and present) keeps catching up to him, and he got blindsided by Donald the Trump. And so the biggest news about the Christie for President campaign these days is that it may be over by Labor Day.
While Christie fit right into the culture of corruption in New Jersey, he was a tough fit for the GOP as a presidential contender from the start. New Jersey is perhaps the most liberal state of all, and while Christie has tried to squeeze into conservative mufti as he sells himself in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere, it isn't working and his past policy positions opposing the gun lobby and supporting gay rights don't pass the Republican litmus test, he believed in human-made climate change before he didn't, while he had the temerity to appoint a Muslim, for cryin' out loud, to a state court judgeship.
Better for Christie to be getting out when he is. It's just that he doesn't know it yet.
In 2010, Christie singlehandedly killed a planned $8.7 billion commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River that virtually everyone else believed would ensure the future health of the New York region's economy. Christie argued that it was just too damned expensive for the frugal times in which he governed, an argument that held little water then and sprang a ginormous leak when it turned out that he planned all along to use New Jersey's share of tunnel construction dough to bail out the state's highway and bridge system, which under his "leadership" had been driven deeply into debt.
That desperately needed third tunnel would be a couple of years away from opening had Christie not taken the money and run. In 2012, the existing rail tunnels were badly damaged by salt water during Superstorm Sandy. The region's frail commuter infrastructure would collapse -- and the economies of New Jersey and New York would suffer grievous body blows -- if either or (heaven forbid) both tunnels had to be closed.
This catastrophe in the making is the fault of one man and one man only, and makes Christie's infamous George Washington Bridge lane closing shenanigans so much child's play.
Christie, a bully without peer, knows only one way to get things done. No, make that two: By lying and being underhanded. While he may not have directly engineered the closing of several lanes of traffic on the George Washington Bridge approach at Fort Lee, New Jersey -- one of the nation's busiest bridges and the key car-and-truck link between New Jersey and New York City -- into four days of gridlock as a payback for the Democratic mayor of the burg refusing to endorse him when he ran for a second term of governor in 2013, key staffers did with his full knowledge and approval, and two are now under federal indictment. In New Jersey street parlance, Christie got a slide on what is dubbed Bridgegate despite his unconvincing efforts to portray himself as the victim (his variation on Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" defense was a real howler), but the incident did lead to a flurry of revelations about his other forays into retributive justice, including dolling out Superstorm Sandy relief money to political allies while screwing his enemies.
Finally, Christie's attempts to paint himself as an able custodian of New Jersey economy are laughable. He has, in a word, trashed the economy of the nation's once most affluent state by cooking the books and a co-mingling of official businesses and GOP favoritism extraordinary even in a state where the official motto might as well be "Pay to Play."
Not only can Christie not point to economic success back home as did then-Texas Governor George W. Bush when he ran for president in 2000, but New Jersey's credit rating has been downgraded eight times on Christie's watch -- more than under any governor in the state's history. In the eighth downgrading, Standard & Poors belabored the obvious in stating that "New Jersey continues to struggle with structural imbalance . . . New Jersey will face increased long-term pressures in managing its long-term liabilities, and that the revenue and expenditure misalignment will grow based on reduced funding of the state's unfunded actuarial accrued liability."
Christie has become such an also-ran that The Associated Press and New York Times have reassigned the reporters who were covering him fulltime to other beats. And it's not that plain-talking governors are struggling to stay afloat in the 17-candidate field because John Kasich of Ohio, who is probably closest to Christie policy wise, continues to surge.
Christie sat with the grown-ups at the first Republican debate, but he's probably headed for the kiddie table at the second debate on September 16 if he's still in the race. And if he is, he's just delaying the inevitable.
MY ANSWER IS 'ALL OF THE ABOVE'
With Donald the Trump tossing Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference in Iowa this week -- and then relenting in a piece of theater on the part of both men that almost seemed scripted -- immigration remained firmly atop the I Wish We Were Talking About Something Else list for most of the candidates in the overstuffed Republican presidential field, but no more so than for Scott Walker. Jeb Bush is a close second.
The Wisconsin governor seems incapable of checking his slide in the polls, or coming up with coherent, let alone consistent answers. On the issue of birthright citizenship, which Trump wants to abolish, Walker has come up with three distinctly different answers in recent days: He's for it, he's against it, and he has no opinion on it.
Meanwhile, immigration should be a winner for Jeb! among the half dozen or so Republicans not supporting Trump. He has long advocated a path to citizenship for hard-working illegals, supported birthright citizenship, is fluent in Spanish and is married to a Mexican. But there he was at an event at a border town in Texas trying to distance himself from himself while ingratiating himself, and in the end insulted Asian-Americans over the comparatively minor issue of Asians who enter the U.S. on tourist visas through organized rackets and give birth babies who are by birthright Americans.
Bush quickly backpedaled, which has become an oft-used gear, as quick-on-his feet Trump tweeted, "In a clumsy move to get out of his 'anchor babies' dilemma, where he signed that he would not use the term and now uses it, he blamed ASIANS."
THE GOP'S VERY OWN MONSTER
Following the 2012 Romney-Ryan debacle, the Republican National Committee spent a bunch of dough to do some research into why the GOP was fading as a national political entity. The result was the Growth and Opportunity Project, a soul-searching examination of what the party could do to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
The most far-reaching conclusion was that:
"The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.
While it is widely acknowledged that virtually everyone associated with the GOP nodded thoughtfully when the paper was published and then promptly ignored it, one convert to the cause did not: The GOP-created monster called Donald the Trump, who has fulfilled the objectives of the Growth and Opportunity Project and then some."Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us. We need to remain America’s conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel. Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism."
Republican pollster Frank Luntz is saying as much after he conducted a recent focus group that found Trump's support to be . . . well, monstrous.
"You guys understand how significant this is?" Luntz asked breathlessly. "This is real. I'm having trouble processing it. Like, my legs are shaking."
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.