Bumpy Ride: How Chris Christie’s Traffic Scandal May Wreck His Presidential Bid

Friday the 13th was a very unlucky day for Chris Christie.

So unlucky, in fact, that it might cost him a chance at the presidency.

Governor Chris Christie found himself in hot water this week after a story broke that initially appeared to be too sensational to be true.  The story goes that in mid-September, two lanes were closed on the George Washington Bridge, an incident that led to extensive traffic backups for three days out of the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Clearly, this was a case of bad timing and nothing more.  However, rumors began to circulate that these lane closures were done by Christie as retribution to Fort Lee Democratic mayor Mark Sokolich, who refused to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.

Sounds far fetched, right?

Here’s where the story gets interesting.  Last Friday, The Rachel Maddow Show reported that a man by the name of David Wildstein, the director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced his resignation, effective January 1st, 2014.  Normally something like this wouldn’t be a big deal. However, Wildstein, a close Christie ally, had recently come under fire for his role in the mid-September incident and questions began to swirl about not only his own involvement, but whether or not Chris Christie himself might have been involved as well.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger posted a scathing editorial on December 5th, in which they tore apart Wildstein’s so-called “explanation” of the lane closures.  Wildstein was identified as the person who ordered the lane closures, which begged the question as to why an ally of Chris Christie was all of a sudden controlling traffic patterns over the GW Bridge.  The Star-Ledger noted that the only person to offer a reason for the closures was Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, who stated they were part of a traffic study.  However, Baroni could not produce the study nor could he give an explanation as to why police and ambulance crews were not given advanced notice about the closures, which was established agency policy.  The Port Authority’s executive director, Patrick Foye, denounced the closure and called it “dangerous” and “probably illegal”.

Do you see where this is heading?

Flash forward to this past Thursday.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Christie met with New York governor Andrew Cuomo, regarding Patrick Foye and how Christie believed Foye was pressing too hard regarding the issues with the mid-September “traffic study”.  Christie later denied the meeting took place, going so far as to calling it “categorically false”.

However, regardless of whether or not the meeting took place on Thursday, what happened Friday cannot be denied:  Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni resigned. After everything that had happened, Baroni chose to resign rather than continue to be hammered for his role in the mid-September traffic incident.  Christie claimed that a Baroni resignation had been in the works for some time; however, the timing of the incident certainly raises several red flags. If Baroni had, in fact, intended to resign, why wait so long to announce it? And why would you do it in the middle of a political hailstorm?

Despite all of this, Christie himself managed to stay out of the limelight as long as he could. Unfortunately, that all changed today when he finally spoke on the issue.  When asked about his relationship with Mark Sokolich, Christie said:

“I don’t have any recollection of ever having met the mayor of Fort Lee in my four years. He was not somebody that was on my radar screen in any way-politically, professionally, or in any other way-until these stories came out in the aftermath of the closing.”

So, it initially appeared that Christie had played the “denial card” to much success.  Unfortunately, he then was asked about his role in what had happened.  He responded by saying:

“I am ultimately responsible for every person that I put into this government and the actions they take. That’s different, obviously, than direct responsibility. But ultimate responsibility? Sure. I understand that.”

And it is a quote like that that can end political careers.

By releasing an epic soundbite about being responsible yet not accountable, Chris Christie has opened up a huge can of worms for his future presidential campaign.  What started out as a laughable, far-fetched tale has now been given legs to stand on. Two high-ranking officials have resigned in the wake of this scandal. There remain many more questions than answers. This is not simply some Rand Paul “I’m Too Stupid To Know What Plagiary Is” incident that will vanish in a few days. This is a real, genuine scandal and it will dog Christie for the foreseeable future.

The situation offers him no way to claim victory.  If it is true, then he is a real-life Tony Soprano, using his power and authority to intimidate his political opponents and putting people’s lives and well-being at risk to prove a political point.  How can America be expected to elect someone who resorts to infantile revenge tactics when he feels he is wronged? How can America elect someone who is the antithesis of the man we currently have in office?

If the situation is false, it raises huge questions about the people Chris Christie associates himself with.  How can he be expected to produce a presidential cabinet when he can’t even figure out who’s in charge of doing a simple traffic study?  How will he respond in office the first time a member of his close inner circle is criticized?  And, most importantly, how will he respond when even the smallest decision he makes is magnified and critiqued by multiple news outlets on a daily basis?

For those hoping to see the premature end of a Chris Christie Republican nomination, Christmas came early this year.

Trevor LaFauci

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