How N.J. Gov. Chris Christie responds to the next steps in investigations of the September 2013 partial closure of access to the George Washington Bridge will be key to determining his political future, one New Jersey political scientist said.
Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J., said on Tuesday that if Christie, widely thought to be aiming for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is to recover politically from the controversy, he’ll have to comply fully with the investigation.
The “enormously popular” governor had largely not dealt with questions about traffic-snarling lane closures in the Fort Lee, N.J., approach to the bridge connecting N.J. and New York City until emails surfaced last week implicating several of his closest aides.
And while his lengthy press conference last week was a good step, Harrison said he made a mistake in not getting more information from Bridget Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, before firing her.
“Instead of hauling her into his office and saying, “OK Bridget, we want to know who’s behind this,’ he did not even speak with her,” Harrison said. “In a scandal of this type, where he is talking about wanting to get to the bottom of this, it seems like … Bridget Kelly was thrown under the bus.”
New revelations have also surfaced that the federal government is investigating Christie’s use of Hurricane Sandy disaster relief funds to fund a tourism commercial that also promoted his image as governor.
However, Harrison said New Jersey residents are less likely to find that upsetting.
“I think New Jerseyans are much more willing to accept you using funds to buy tourism ads that highlight you than they are having you mess with their commutes,” she said.
Christie has maintained a blustery image throughout his tenure in office, one that has in many ways appealed to voters.
“This is a governor who has said this is who I am and I’m not going to change who I am,” Harrison said. “In New Jersey, we find that particularly appealing.”
But, she said, that image is heavily dependent on also seeming genuine.
“This scandal paints that (honest) image that he had carefully sold to the American people … as a stereotype,” Harrison said. “People outside the state of New Jersey are thinking about Tony Soprano, they’re thinking about "American Hustle," they’re thinking about all these pejorative stereotypes of New Jersey and New Jersey politicians.”
If Christie wishes to recover in time for success in the primaries, she said restoring that sense of honesty will be crucial.
“There is this perception, at least at this particular point in time, that Christie is damaged goods,” she said. “Given the highly competitive nature of presidential primaries, that’s not … a monkey on the back that a candidate wants to be walking around with.
“My best estimate for how to get through this is to fully comply with every investigation. And that assumes that he has nothing to hide, which is the big question that will determine his future,” she said.