The late Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil famously said, "All politics is local." Time and time again, we find that to be true. I'd like to take that a step further and declare that all politics is also personal.
When I walk into my polling place every election year to vote, I almost always know exactly who I'm going to vote for or against. I vote for the candidate that is with me or I vote against the candidate who's against me. Many times, I vote on the issue of equality, namely the candidate's stance on equal rights for the gay community. It's a litmus test, to be sure, but the act of voting, frankly, is a litmus test. The test is either you're with or against my equal rights. It's actually that simple. I'm willing to bet that's how many Americans vote.
The voters of New Jersey just en masse re-elected their sitting Republican governor by a 22-point margin. Gov. Chris Christie has been widely touted as the saviour of the Republican party. It's no secret he's running for president in 2016, coming off his strong win last November.
But yesterday morning, the Bergen Record published a series of emails and communications between Christie's senior staff and his allies at the Port Authority. The emails detail purely malicious acts to punish personally the very constituents who just voted for him. What exactly did his Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and his close ally David Wildstein do? They shut down traffic on the George Washington Bridge, that long bridge that links New Jersey to the city of New York.
When I'm in New York for work and have to go over to New Jersey for CNBC television hits, I go back and forth over the "GW Bridge." Thousands of soccer moms, business men and women, plumbers and HVAC contractors alike travel across that bridge every day.
Traffic has always been a political dynamic. Fix traffic problems and a politician can win re-election, just like former New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, aka Senator Pothole, who was known for excellent constituent services. Ignore the potholes and traffic jams and you'll lose. After all, if a politician can't get transportation issues right, what can he get done?
But Christie has a bigger problem than just potholes. He has, at the least, a staff that is mean, vindictive and malicious. They're political bullies. They acted on his behalf, whether he knew it or not. They acted like their boss. His staff became the boss. His staff became bullies because they were allowed to become bullies. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. It's one thing to have a single bully on the political playground. It's another thing when the bully is surrounded by his posse of little bullies.
Chris Christie isn't just the governor of New Jersey. He's also the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. What's his job? To travel across the country and ensure the re-election of every GOP governor on the ballot this November. It's a fundraising tool for him and, more importantly, it's a stepping stone by which he can personally raise his profile on the national stage.
I've had problems with Christie's policies in the past, specifically his stance on marriage equality. I've also said publicly that I admired his ability to give his constituents straightforward answers whether they liked what he had to say or not. Coming off a 20-point landslide win just three months ago, it looks like his constituents got duped.
I personally wouldn't have voted to re-elect Christie had I been a resident of New Jersey. His record on equality forbids that. But there's another, more important reason I wouldn't have voted for Christie last November: While he's the ring leader on the playground, he's surrounded himself with a bunch of bullying Mini-Me's.
Christie can fire as many of his senior staff as he wants, and in fact should be lauded for doing so. He can say the "buck stops here" and should be lauded for doing so. In his words, "action was necessary," meaning he's fired Kelly. But I still have a bigger problem with the governor. He's created a culture of bullying, a staff of bullies, a mentality of "it's my way or the highway." In fact, my MSNBC colleague Kelly O'Donnell asked the governor if he is a "political bully" in his press conference this morning. His response: "No, I'm not a bully."
Self-awareness is the key to knowing who you are and how you're perceived. Clearly, he can't see the forest for the trees.
If Christie still ends up running for president, I will vote against him if his position on marriage equality is the same as it is today. That's my personal decision. What the voters across America will have to decide is whether or not they want a commander in chief who will install a cadre of bullies at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were he to win. Bullying the mayor of Ft. Lee, N.J., is bad. Bullying any American because of petty politics is personal and sadly unforgivable. It's also a disqualifier for the presidency of the United States.