The Three Ways Conservatives Are Handling the Chris Christie Scandal

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 9 2014 6:43 PM

The Three Ways Conservatives Are Handling the Chris Christie Scandal

So, Chris Christie's said his piece. The press corps, ignoring the calendar that says the New Hampshire primary is two years away, is processing What This Scandal Means for his chances.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

What it means, of course, will be decided by Republicans. They're reacting in a few identifiable ways.


1) Gloating. It's like McKay Coppins says here: Many, many conservatives resent Christie and the place he's earned in the Republican Party. Both Coppins and I have quoted Steve Deace, an influential radio host in Iowa, who's been on the record criticizing Christie as an establishment hack who's exactly wrong to put up against Hillary Clinton in 2016. But lots of other critics refuse to forgive Christie for his eleventh-hour Hurricane Sandy hug of Barack Obama. Political scientists have chortled at the suggestion that Christie pushed the president over the top, but the people who badly wanted to elect Mitt Romney have never forgiven him. Not fully.

Plus, they just didn't like the guy. In Double Down and Collision 2012, the two big 2013 histories of the campaign, lots of sources dish about Christie's egoism.* "Trenton insisted on private jets, lavish spreads of food, space for a massive entourage," reported Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Christie's convention speech annoyed some (not all!) Romney staff, and led to a public confrontation between the governor and Romney fixer Ron Kaufman over pre-speech leaks. After the presser today, one former consultant for a 2012 candidate (one that wasn't endorsed by Christie) hoped, sort of sarcastically, that "the world's worst" press team had been "less incompetent" than usual as they spun this scandal.

2). Pity. No Republican figure had a better week, vis-à-vis the downfall of his rivals, than Sen. Rand Paul. On Monday, Liz Cheney left the Wyoming primary for U.S. Senate, snuffing out a neoconservative voice that had been critical of the Paul style. Then came the Christie news. Paul, you'll remember, has happily cut into Christie for his "grubbing" Hurricane Sandy relief money. This whole scandal was a gift to Paul's side.

Reached by NBC News, though, Paul was circumspect. "I don't know who emailed who and who works for whom," Paul said. "I have been in traffic before though and I know how angry I am when I'm in traffic and I've always wondered, 'Who did this to me?' "

Paul went easy, like a lot of Republicans are going easy. Why pile on the guy? Maybe the next New Jersey poll will show his approval rating holding up (hey, Reagan pulled it off after Iran-Contra), but to Iowans and New Hampshire voters and anyone outside the Acela corridor, Christie is now famous as the governor whose vindictive staff shut down a bridge. One strategist, who planned to work for a rival 2016 campaign, assured me that Christie had crested.

3.) Pride. There's plenty of this on display, though it's pretty contextual. Christie's marathon press conference, multiple apologies, and proud staff firings inspired some conservatives to think of the real enemy. Hey, would Barack Obama ever behave like this? I asked Phil Kerpen, an ally of Christie's 2009 primary rival Steve Lonegan—a conservative veteran of David Koch's Americans for Prosperity, who's pressured Christie to move right—what he thought of the presser.

"Governor Christie handled the situation well," said Kerpen. "He took responsibility, apologized, and terminated the people who were involved. Basically the opposite of how President Obama has handled incompetence and malfeasance in his administration, which voters are likely to appreciate."

By and large the 2012 veterans I talked to had the same impression. They did not want to see Christie fail, then or now. The guy who spun the press for two hours on a complicated scandal should be able to spin much less recondite topics in the future.

"The presser was masterful," said David Freddoso, a conservative author who's written two biographies of President Obama, focusing on his scandals. "I'm glad he can plausibly claim he wasn't involved—but he sure better be telling the truth, because if anything comes to light that's inconsistent with what he said ... "

*Correction, Jan. 10, 2014: This post originally misidentified Collision 2012 as Battle 2012.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Honcho Says Celebs Who Keep Nude Photos in the Cloud Are “Stupid”
  News & Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
Oct. 2 2014 9:19 AM Alibaba’s Founder on Why His Company Is Killing It in China
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?