Chris Christie’s Biggest Mistake

Chris Christie may or may not have had any clear involvement in the politically-motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, and evidence one way or another might or might not be uncovered by the various state and federal investigations into the matter. Whatever happens, he has already made an inexcusable set of political mistakes that should make potential funders for a 2016 presidential bid very concerned.

Quite simply, Christie and his communications team have failed to provide a good explanation for the Governor’s lack of knowledge about the workings of his senior staff, and they have spent a month treading water instead of putting out a coherent story of what led to the lane closures. The governor’s staff have gotten far behind the story and have lost any chance of regaining control of the narrative. Well into February, a month after his hour-and-a-half-long press conference, Christie has still been trotting out the same lines about an internal review and professing his own innocence and ignorance.

The problem isn’t that people are taking particular note of the Christie team’s pathetically slow response, because most 2016 voters are not too bothered at this point. The problem is actually more serious than if they had been, because polling data has indicated that most Americans don’t buy his story about the lane closures, and by floundering for more than a month the Christie camp has lost valuable time to reset perceptions about his role. While they may have hoped that the story would die down and people would simply forget about the entire affair, the attractiveness of the story at the outset made it an obvious headline-topper for a week or so on many news outlets, which entrenched public perceptions of the event — including suspicion about the governor’s involvement.

Any important donors to the Republican Party should be viewing this lackluster response in a Presidential campaign context. What sort of (media-generated) front-runner lets a scandal of this size get so far out of his control? If Christie has any more skeletons in his closet — as some hints from Double Down indicated he does — and his communications and campaign strategy team reacts with this lethargy and lack of direction, he could be pretty well sunk.

Christie made a reasonable effort to regain control of the story in his first news conference, but since then he has drifted further and further behind the media coverage, and his team has utterly failed to recast the narrative and provide a convincing explanation that exonerates the governor. Barring a bombshell, it hardly matters if he had any involvement or was guilty of illegal activity. His inaction on the public relations front should be enough of an indictment to rule out any Presidential hopes.

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