For whom the bridge tolls

PHOTOS: ASSOCIATED PRESS New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference in which he announced the firing of his deputy chief of staff.
PHOTOS: ASSOCIATED PRESS New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference in which he announced the firing of his deputy chief of staff.
Posted: January 10, 2014

JERSEY BOY Chris Christie has taken a torpedo below the waterline, voracious sharks are circling, but will the George Washington Bridge scandal sink his national political aspirations?

That's the great white hope of his foes.

The sharks come from the Left, as you would expect, because Christie is a Republican and the name of the game is protect HMS Hillary. But the sharks also attack from the Right, because Big Boy isn't reactionary enough for them. The tea-party gang doesn't grasp that a national candidate as far right as they are simply can't win.

They idolize Ronald Reagan, but he wasn't reactionary and even the Great Communicator said if you agree with him 80 percent of the time he'd call you a friend. He dealt with Democrats and was not totally obstinate. The current tea party has a purity test that Barry Goldwater (he supported gays in the military and voted for a Democrat) could not pass.

Hostile to Christie, Big Talker WPHT/1210-AM radio host Dom Giordano yesterday was squawking for Christie's scalp, calling him too moderate for the conservative host's taste, calling him a "traitor."

Giordano also doesn't like Big Boy's style, calling him not just a RINO (Republican In Name Only), but a "charging RINO" because of his supposed bully tactics.

The question regarding the scheme by Christie aides to block traffic from Fort Lee to the bridge to punish its mayor is: What did Christie know and when did he know it? That's a fair question.

The other element of the attack is, "If he didn't know, he should have known, and that disqualifies him from leadership." That's unfair.

When Democrats harpoon him with that, I will ask them when Barack Obama knew that the NSA was reading German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mail, when he knew the IRS had targeted conservative groups, when he knew his Secret Service detail was using prostitutes in Colombia.

If there is no proof Obama knew - and, so far, this is the case with Big Boy - then the fair question is what the leader does once the foul play is revealed.

In a marathon news conference yesterday, Big Boy said his aides acted without his knowledge or approval, he apologized, he said he was "humiliated" and "heartbroken" by the stunt, which was a "rogue political operation." He fired his deputy chief of staff.

"I believe Christie took appropriate responsibility and action," said strategic- and crisis-communications professional Dan Gross, a Daily News columnist before launching Gross Communications. "The extent to which he disavowed prior knowledge of the closures supports his credibility because he knows he's screwed if new info emerges to contradict him."

I looked for telltale signs at the news conference. It was a stressful situation but Big Boy didn't sweat, he looked questioners in the eye, his own eyes didn't dart or deflect, he gave the impression of a man who was sorrowful, chastised and sober. His contrition came off as believable.

The scandal has revived the "bully" charge against him and he engaged in mild introspection. "What did I do wrong to make these folks think it was OK to lie?"

Are we seeing the early makings of a kinder, gentler Chris Christie?

That would change his brand, but another part of his image took the biggest dent - that of a no-nonsense governor above the pettiness of politics. That's why he hugged Obama when he arrived at the Jersey Shore with a federal bag o' aid. The tea party still chokes on that image.

As for national aspirations, Big Boy still has the tea party to deal with (no small issue in early primary states), but he has two long years to recover from this mess.

While Dems will use BridgeGate as a convenient dog whistle, we know two things about American voters. They are forgiving - and they are forgetful.

It ain't over until the fat man bellows.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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