Hillary Clinton is the big winner in the Bridgegate lotto. The controversial closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge opens the road to the White House for the Democratic frontrunner.
Chris Christie was the best possible candidate to turn the White House into Republican real estate in 2016. The independents who decide elections don't like Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. Christie may still be a viable presidential candidate in 2016, but his nomination as the GOP standard bearer is even more problematic than it was a month ago. If Christie does run and somehow manages to win the Republican nod, he will bring a lot of baggage into the fall of 2016.
Much of that baggage comes from the governor's inept handling of the scandal. Since the furor over the George Washington Bridge erupted, Christie has made many excuses but few explanations.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote "never ruin an apology with an excuse." Apologies work better when they come in the active rather than passive voice. Christie would have been better off if he had said "I made a mistake" in his State of the State speech Monday night. Instead he used the weasel words: "Mistakes were clearly made."
Who made the mistakes, Mr. Governor? Did you make a mistake or was the closing entirely the fault of your staffers? Inquiring minds want to know.
If you think that Christie's lame apology sounds familiar, you're right. George W. Bush used almost exactly the same words to absolve his own guilt when he defended his administration's disastrous handling of the war in Iraq.
One of the obstacles Christie faces in getting though this scandal is that, for ideological and personal reasons, he has few Republican friends. Most of the Republican statements about the scandal made on last Sunday's talk shows were pretty feeble. Tea party Republicans can barely conceal their glee at the governor's downfall. Conservative Columnist George Will compared Bridgegate to Watergate, and on the Fox News Channel no less. Will made the comparison because he thought Christie's abuse of power reminded him of Richard Nixon. Or it could be because Christie's "I am not a bully" sounded all too similar to Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook."
But the worst thing about the bridge to nowhere for Christie is that the scandal was a slippery slope that has led to a microscopic examination of everything he has done in his political career. By stopping traffic on the GW, Christie hung all his dirty laundry out to dry. Subpoenas will fly like confetti soon, and every national political journalist and every reporter in New Jersey will closely examine Christie's political career. Already there are allegations of widespread political reprisals and the governor's use of Hurricane Sandy federal disaster aid to reward political cronies.
I don't know who it will be from, but there's a good chance Clinton will have a serious challenge in 2016 for the Democratic nomination since she is a polarizing figure for so many Democrats. For now, however, Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner, and Bridegate has removed a major roadblock that stood between her and the White House.