Here I go again writing about Republicans, but how could I not do a post about Chris Christie’s current problems?  Full disclosure: I can’t stand the guy, and I enjoy seeing him squirm.  I’ve long thought of him as an obese, somewhat more conservative version of Rudy Giuliani: nasty, self-righteous, mean-spirited, petty and vindictive.   Like Giuliani, Christie manages to use his irrepressible nastiness to put over an image of refreshing candor–a man apart from most politicians, who want always to be liked.

There are two natural questions to ask about Bridgegate.  The first is: what did the governor know and when did he know it?  The second is: what does this affair tell us about the administration that Christie is running in Trenton?

The information to answer the first question isn’t publicly available, so all we can co is speculate.  As Democratic legislator John Wisniewski sees it, “It strains credibility [sic] to say that somebody in as high a position as a deputy chief of staff, somebody in as high a position as the governor’s principal spokesperson…didn’t ever communicate this to the governor. “   Fair enough, but to say “It strains credulity…” is not quite the same as saying “It is inconceivable….” Christie claims that he called a  meeting of his top staff a month ago to ask if any of them had anything to do with the lane closings, and no one spoke up.   I don’t think he could be making that up, though it is conceivable that the whole thing was more or less an act, and Christie knew the script.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff, was savvy enough to ensure that her boss had plausible deniability.   A good subordinate knows how to read her boss’s cues; she knows what he likes and wants, and knows that sometimes he can’t be personally involved in getting it.  So she gets it done herself, letting him keep his hands clean.   Maybe Christie had some idea that his staff were going to go after the mayor of Fort Lee in some way, and didn’t ask any questions.   He could even have told his staff: “I wanna get that guy, and I don’t care and don’t wanna know how you do it.”  The obverse of plausible deniability is willful ignorance.

The second question is more open-ended, but there is certainly enough information, based not only on this but on previous incidents, to answer it with some confidence.  The Christie administration reflects Christie’s personality and values.  His aides see politics, at least as far as the governor is concerned, as war: critics and opponents must be crushed.  The Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum quoted a reader of his who started out citing the now infamous e-mail exchange and then went on perceptively to draw inferences:

Bridget Anne Kelly: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

David Wildstein: “Got it.”

Does this exchange sound like it’s between two people who are suggesting a new and novel way to screw their political opponents, or between two people who have clearly done this before?

If I’m working in the governor’s office[*] and someone sends me an email saying “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee!” I’d probably email back something like, “What are you talking about?” or “What happened in Fort Lee that’s causing all the traffic?” Instead, Wildstein knows what she’s getting at right away, and what he’s supposed to do.

Of course, there must have been some in-between e-mails that haven’t been released that enabled Wildstein to “get it” so quickly, but the observation remains valid: Christie’s people treated the sabotage of Fort Lee traffic as a normal act of political combat.  No one needed to tell them what to do; they knew what they had to do, which is why Christie didn’t have to know.


* Actually, Wildstein was working in the Port Authority, as a Christie political appointee.


  1. Jeffrey Herrmann January 12, 2014 at 4:15 am

    It seems likely that Christie, at a minimum, set the tone that guided his lackeys to take these actions in Ft Lee. Their stupidity was as enormous as their spite. I don’t think there is anything Christie can do now to stop the viral spread of the “Christie-is-a-bully” meme, which has the virtue of being true.
    While it’s good to know these things about Christie, I wish they hadn’t been revealed so soon. I’d much rather see a handful of crude, stupid and vindictive Repugnican candidates fighting among themselves well into 2016 than have most of them eliminated from contention early in the two-year electoral season.

  2. Judy January 18, 2014 at 9:10 am

    This post, and related events, provoked (slow) musing about three sets of issues:

    1. This analysis — that a good subordinate knows what her boss wants, and that her job is to make sure he gets it while also providing him with “plausible deniability” — makes total sense to me. (It’s been going on for a long time… cf. Richard III and Warwick, as portrayed by Shakespeare!)
    Clearly part of her role is to take the fall, while the boss’s side of the deal is to protect and reward her behind the scenes. But I wonder what happens to HER, when he has to cash in the political capital she’s helped him accumulate, by firing her?
    In this day and age in New Jersey, she doesn’t physically lose her head like Warwick. But how is she seen in future, by the community of political operatives of which she’s a part? Will she readily find another job, based on her proven record of ultimate loyalty? Or will she be branded as “poison” by her too-public association with this issue, and thus become unemployable?

    2. It’s also interesting that, in spite of a zillion recent episodes that prove the contrary, even very sophisticated people like these still seem to believe that their e mail correspondence is private. They might have saved themselves a world of trouble by getting up and walking down the hall! (Though, to be fair, if they were working in separate buildings, showing up in person could have been even more of a red flag. It’s tough out there.)

    3. Finally, a quibble, Tony — I cringe when you mention Christie’s obesity in a context which otherwise lists your view of his political and personal qualities, which I incidentally agree with. I get that you were saying it’s one of the only (small) differences between him and Giuliani, whom he resembles in so many ways. But I want the political discourse to be about ideas, policies, and behavior, not personal appearance.
    (I hasten to add that I’m not saying discussion of this issue is never appropriate — for instance, health issues which affect the probability of a candidate living out his term and having the energy to do the job would be fair game, in my opinion. But that’s different.)

    • tonygreco January 18, 2014 at 10:21 am


      I agree with everything you’ve written, including your quibble–it also occurred to me afterward. Mea culpa

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