Nothing illustrates Chris Christie’s precipitous plummet more exquisitely than the punch he delivered this weekend to the groin of former ally David Wildstein.
Here’s some free advice for the increasingly unloved guv: If you truly want to tout yourself as presidential, even in the midst of a burgeoning scandal, then don’t behave like a peevish juvenile with a tenth-grade mentality. Because most people think of high school as a distant time and place best left in the rear-view mirror.
You’ve probably heard what happened on Friday. Wildstein, the Christie factotum at the Port Authority who played a key role in the George Washington Bridge fiasco, fired a shot at his old boss. According to Wildstein, via his lawyer, “evidence exists” that Christie knew about the infamous lane closures during the four-day period when traffic was gridlocked; if true, that would demolish Christie’s claim that he knew nothing until afterward.
Wildstein’s lawyer didn’t produce any such evidence (Wildstein first wants immunity from prosecution), but Christie’s peril is obvious. As conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer rightly noted on Fox News, the GOP’s erstwhile great white hope is “one email away from utter ruin.”
I get it that politics, especially Jersey politics, is a game of hardball. A guy like Christie takes a hit, and his instinct is to hit back with greater intensity. But not even Richard Nixon, in his most desperate character-sliming moments, dredged up stuff from high school. Christie went there anyway. In a Saturday email, here’s what the aspiring commander-in-chief said about Wildstein:
“As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election,” and “He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”
Well. I’m certainly glad that I never worked for Christie and had the temerity to cross him. Because he might have plumbed my past and discovered (all true) that I loafed in gymnastics class, infuriated my 10th-grade history teacher because I didn’t raise my hand enough (he summoned me to his desk and called me “selfish”), and my friends and I got into trouble for drinking beer and chucking the bottles onto a golf course. And a couple times, I even defied the school dress code by declining to wear the necktie that was required from Oct. 1 to May 1.
Point is, who among us wants to be judged by how we behaved in the blessedly distant era of zits?
As Brian Murphy, an assistant history professor at Baruch College and former Jersey political reporter, says of Christie’s counterattack, “It is hard for me to believe that the governor of an American state could author such a piece of risible juvenalia, except it is harder for me to believe a paid communications professional could have been behind this.”
OK, so maybe Christie still has to work out his high school issues; he was the BMOC and star ballplayer, while Wildstein was just the statistics nerd who sat on the end of the baseball team bench. Christie has drawn that contrast in order to distance himself from his own Port Authority political appointee. And the Saturday email went far beyond high school; for instance, in another bid to discredit Wildstein, Christie said that he was “a political animal” and “an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge.”
It’s funny that a political animal like Christie would impugn someone else for having the same sensibility. But it’s downright thigh-slapping to see Wildstein slimed as “an anonymous blogger” – because back when Christie was a U.S. attorney with higher ambitions, he fed scoops to that very same anonymous blogger. Wildstein ran a political website, PoliticsNJ.com, and in many of its stories, Christie was the star protagonist, the fearless corruption-fighter.
The aforementioned Brian Murphy worked for that website, and he wrote this weekend: “Almost everyone leaks in political reporting, but some of my biggest scoops came from leaks from Christie’s office, either to ‘Wally’ or to both of us. And Chris Christie loved the product of our work.” All told, the website’s coverage of prosecutor Christie “played at least a small part in helping him become governor.”
And I can’t help but wonder: If Wildstein (according to Christie’s weekend attack) was really so “deceptive,” secretive, “tumultuous,” politically animalistic, and “controversial” dating all the way back to Livingston High, why did Christie set him up with a six-figure job at the powerful Port Authority? If he was always such a loser, why did Christie laud him – just seven weeks ago, when Wildstein left the job – for his “commitment and dedication…as a tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests”?
Because Christie wanted someone there who would protect his interests and do his bidding; as the Bergen Record newspaper headlined back in March ’12, Wildstein was “Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority.” But now that Wildstein’s eyes and ears have failed Christie – remember, he produced the email evidence that the lane closure order came from the governor’s office – Christie is going for his throat. Thus demonstrating anew that Christie, stuck playing defense (in an offensive manner), has no control over the scandal narrative.
It’s going to be a long year for him. And the distressed Republican establishment, eyeing ’16, is surely signaling Jeb Bush, “Help us, Obi Wan Kanobe. You’re our only hope.”
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