A New Jersey Bridgegate too far

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It almost pains me to say this – no, it actually does pain me very much to say this – but I feel sorry for Chris Christie.

New Jersey’s rotund chief executive, long the butt of fat jokes and steady accusations of thuggery, narcissism, grandstanding and self-promotion, has finally gotten himself painted into a very uneasy corner.

This whole business, dubbed ‘Bridgegate’ by the creative geniuses of the New York press, has turned the brash firebrand into a chastened school boy in front of the media, a stance which I’m sure tears at his soul, and places real jeopardy on his chances of scoring the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

You can read about the details of the scheme, which Christie himself called “abject stupidity” in his apologetic press conference on Thursday, on the front page of this newspaper, and just about any other newspaper in America, so I won’t make you re-read the ins and outs of this boneheaded fiasco, other than to say that Christie’s description is spot on.

Still, you say, why feel sorry for the big lug? Isn’t the loudmouthed bully ripe for a comeuppance? Well, maybe, but here’s why I can’t fight back the twinge of pity.

Because even if he’s telling the absolute truth (now), Christie is so much as admitting that his senior staff and campaign operatives think he’s an ineffective boob. How else to explain that he was completely ignorant of a complex plan of vengeance on his behalf against a small-town mayor carried out by the members of his inner circle?

Did they not clue him in because they were sure he’d disapprove? Then why do it? There is no political gain in shutting down Fort Lee’s access to the George Washington Bridge – the world’s busiest at 102 million vehicles per year – for a couple of cronies, senior staffers and political appointees.

If they did it to spite Fort Lee’s mayor retroactively for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid, and did so without Christie’s knowledge or approval, then they are the worst political operatives in history. Christie smoked challenger Barbara Buono in a walkover by some 22 points, but instead of popping bottles and planning four more years of fat contracts, these petty, vindictive thugs decided to pick on a small town for a week.

And in doing so, snarled traffic for miles and committed the worst sin possible for a public official: they literally put the public in danger. That requires a special brand of stupid.

And that brand of stupid, ladies and gentlemen, is what the governor of New Jersey has surrounded himself with. He knows it, and he knows it will haunt him politically.

Which brings us to his now-questionable run for the White House in a couple of years. Yes, he was the far and away front runner up until this week, but the bloom is already off that rose. Republicans wasted no time in abandoning ship, with conservative blogs and online comment sections denouncing Christie as a RINO – Republican in name only – and deserving of whatever political fallout he gets. What passes for Christie defenders basically comes down to a few die-hard conservatives sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming, “Benghazi!” over and over.

And if you’re thinking that two years is a long time and voters will forget, I can promise you that they will be reminded through a seemingly endless barrage of television commercials very early in the campaign.

There will be dramatic images of the bumper-to-bumper lines that stretch for miles; and close ups of teary-eyed children sitting for hours on a school bus and gagging on exhaust fumes. Paramedics, police, fire and first responders will be shown angrily checking their watches as they’re stuck in traffic while lives are on the line and precious minutes tick by. Then a running tally board of what the four-day bridge slowdown cost taxpayers in lost commerce, and productivity, and wasted fuel, and – well, you get the idea.

And that’s just what he can expect from his fellow Republicans during what would surely be a barroom brawl of a primary. Even if he were to survive that onslaught – which he wouldn’t — there wouldn’t be enough of his broken reputation and shattered dreams left to mount any sort of campaign against a strong Democrat.

Looks like the GOP is going to have to dig itself up another front runner. And given the other choices, I have a sinking feeling that we’ll all end up feeling a little bit sorry for Chris Christie.

Daryl Gale is city editor of The Philadelphia Tribune.

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