Chris Christie's problem isn't a pack of mouthbreathing staffers driven by spite and the petty thuggishness of an ugly, faux-Sopranos, tough guy campaign culture. The bridge scandal isn't even all that particularly interesting.
Christies's problem is that he's 2016's Acela Republican...and he believes his own press.
Who is the Acela Republican?
The Acela Republican is as comfortable in the green rooms of MSNBC as he is at a green energy conference. The Acela Republican isn't one of those horrible Tea Party yahoos who comes from somewhere other than a big, coastal metropolis. The Acela Republican is softer, smoother, and less confrontational...unless he's taking on his own party.
Then, he's a ferocious scold. “Taking on his own party” is the passport of the Acela Republican to hundreds of stories about how he—and only he—can save the GOP. He talks about bringing people together, working with the other party, getting things done for everyone, regardless of politics...if only his own backward, hick, red-state, cousin-kissing bumpkin party will see the light.
Right now of course, it's Governor Chris Christie. In 2012, it was Jon Huntsman. Most famous of all, of course, was John McCain. They're not entirely new, but in an age of rising conservatism, the Acela Republican is just the kind of candidate America's media class pretend they could almost possibly contemplate thinking of voting for in the general election. The Acela Republican is the one Republican who shares their contempt for the GOP broadly, and modern conservatism specifically.
Take John McCain. In 2008, McCain was The Maverick. The Republican who spoke truth. The rebel. The Media Darling. The go-to talking head for any Sunday show worth its salt. The theory was that McCain could sell the GOP with his ferocious streak of independence and integrity. With a history of glowing op-eds and a press corps that raved about his vaunted Straight Talk, McCain was confident that he'd broken the code.
Well, my friends...the moment Barack Obama appeared on the scene, everything the press loved about John McCain was either forgotten, subject to a sinister revisionism, or turned into a negative. Outrageous, patently false stories and unbelievably ugly attacks on McCain's personal life, political character, and even his military service came fast, and without a scintilla of shame.
Conservatives wary of Chris Christie understand this better than many of the donor class who have embraced the Governor. They've seen this movie before, and know this pattern will repeat itself the moment the stakes are real and the second Christie is locked in as the nominee.
The big, genuine, authentic personality the press adores today? Watch the speed with which he's reframed as a corrupt bully, a thug, a sweaty jerk with his finger wagging in the face of the little people. Those fiery, fun videos of him smacking around whiny teacher union reps will suddenly be windows into media analyses of a deeply angry, perhaps violent man. All it will take is one Vine of Christie losing it with some little old lady in New Hampshire, and we have the 47% story of 2016.
You can understand why the Acela Republican is blinded by the adulation and praise. You can see the cycle of addiction to the cheering and the media rewards given to him every time he scolds and chastises the Republican Party and the conservative movement. It will be too late when he understands that the price of the glowing coverage is a slow accretion of betrayal and insult to the very people who are necessary to win the Republican primary.
Christie had burned a lot of political bridges with conservatives well before his staff blocked one in real life. True to the Acela Republican's way, Christie is much better known for his fights, conflicts, and criticism of the GOP than for his leadership against the Democratic Party. He's quick off the mark to insult John Boehner or Rand Paul, but less so on Democrats like Barack Obama or his friend across the Hudson, Andrew Cuomo.
Will Chris Christie survive Bridgegate? Most likely. Will he be the Republican nominee? It was unlikely before the bridge scandal.
And last time I checked, the Acela doesn't stop at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
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