Is Chris Christie Being Treated Unfairly?

I have no doubt that right about now, Chris Christie believes he's being treated unfairly. He sees himself beset by his political opponents, by the media (both local and national), and even by some Republicans who'd like to see the guy who a few months ago looked like the most formidable 2016 presidential contender get knocked down a few pegs. And for what? Because a couple of knuckleheads who worked for him thought tying up traffic on the George Washington Bridge would be a good way to stick it to some two-bit mayor? That's what brings down a man whose destiny it was to be the leader of the free world? How can a just universe tolerate such a thing?

Like many a politician before him, Christie was elevated by an adoring media, and is now being laid low by that same media. But his biggest problem is not that unfair conclusions are being drawn about what he and his administration have done. It's that everybody's looking at everything. A reporter who gets a tip about some funny business happening with something connected to New Jersey state government doesn't have to work hard to convince his editors to let him pursue the story. People involved in politics who have interesting stories to tell, and who might never have considered them anything more than amusing tales to swap over drinks, now say to themselves, "Maybe I should call up a reporter." The snowball of Christie-related misdeeds starts rolling down the hill, grabbing everything in its path.

A month ago, the mayor of Hoboken didn't like the way she had gotten strong-armed by the Lieutenant governor over Sandy relief funds, but she didn't think there was much she could do about it. Then the GW Bridge story was all over the news, and she said to herself, maybe it's time I told this story publicly. A month ago, an odd incident in which a New Jersey state trooper was nabbed for using a five-finger discount at a Cabela's in Pennsylvania probably wouldn't even be news in New Jersey, and it certainly wouldn't have made it across the river into New York media. But since the trooper in question happened to work on the governor's security detail, now you get articles about it like this one: "Cop for Gov. Chris Christie Caught Shoplifting."

Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not. To a certain degree, you could take any governor and, given the time, peer under enough rocks to come up with a fair quantity of unsavory behavior. Little violations happen everywhere. Anybody who has worked in politics has seen plenty of them. There's the deputy director of paper clip procurement who gives his buddy who owns a paper clip factory some tips about the best way to win the contract. There's the candidate's supporter who buys a bunch of pizzas for the volunteers but doesn't report the in-kind contribution, because he's already maxed out. And who cares? It's not like anybody got hurt. It certainly isn't the fault of the guy whose face is on the posters. And when you're talking about state government, you've got thousands of people who work for the governor in one way or another. He can't be responsible for everything any one of them does.

But if he wants to reach for the brass ring, he is responsible, and the closer he gets, the more responsible he becomes. Bobby Jindal is probably going to run for president, but right now nobody's scouring Louisiana state government to see what kinds of interesting doings are afoot down on the Bayou (not that there could possibly be anything corrupt happening in Louisiana!). But if one day he becomes the front-running GOP candidate, they will. When Chris Christie moved into that position—becoming a hero to conservatives everywhere who loved those YouTube videos of him yelling at people, giving the keynote speech at the 2012 convention, getting all that glowing press during and after Hurricane Sandy—it was only a matter of time before the scrutiny increased. And once you have one tasty scandal, every other potential scandal gets a much closer look.

The Christie team hasn't exactly proven themselves to be a bunch of PR ninjas during this whole thing; perhaps their most boneheaded move was the memo they released attempting to discredit accuser and Christie high school classmate David Wildstein, which included the vital insight that the teenage Wildstein "was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior." I suppose you can give them credit for showing some restraint by not mentioning the unconfirmed rumor that one day in the elementary school playground, Wildstein smelt it when it was none other than he who dealt it. But whatever we finally conclude about Christie's knowledge of and involvement in the bridge tie-up, the question of whether his administration is more or less corrupt than any other will remain a complicated one to determine. If he announced tomorrow that he won't run in 2016, the national media's interest in New Jersey scandal stories would evaporate in seconds. But so long as he holds out that possibility, and so long as he looks like a potentially strong contender, they're going to keep looking.

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