Christie Nails It

Chris Christie's response to the bridge debacle is a case study in handling a political crisis.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a news conference in Trenton, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, about recently released documents that show Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly arranged traffic jams to punish a mayor who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie just schooled President Barack Obama and every other politician in America on the proper way to handle a crisis.

Up to now, what some folks have been calling "Bridgegate" has been nipping at the heels of the newly-re-elected governor and 2016 presidential prospect. The discovery of emails and text messages showing that the closure of lanes leading up to the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge was indeed undertaken as political retribution, and not for a traffic study as some had claimed, turned what had been laughable into a serious allegation.

In his Thursday press conference, Christie dealt with the whole matter openly and with apparent candor. He explained what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did and would be doing as a result. No excuses, just the facts.

Contrast this with the way Obama has handled, well, take your pick: Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the failure of the Department of Health and Human Services to have the healthcare.gov website ready on its launch date. Anytime Obama gets called out, he responds with evasions, excuses and what for him is the tried and true tactic of blaming his out-of-office for nearly six years predecessor. Refreshing as Christie's candor was, it was light years ahead of what America has come to expect from Obama.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

In his first real test under fire, Christie came off appearing completely presidential. It is an unstated truism in American politics that the voters have to be able to imagine you in the role you want to occupy. If they can't see you as a president, for example, they won't pay attention to you and they won't vote for you. Christie demonstrated solid leadership and, of almost equal importance, mastery of the Trenton and national press covering the story. As long as they had questions, he was happy to stay around and answer them, even to the point of repetition.

There are going to be some commentators who fault the governor for taking a "me, me, me" approach to his comments, but the way the inquiry appeared to be heading made that necessary. Christie was on his way to being blamed personally for what his aides did, the governor said repeatedly, without his knowledge either while they were doing it or after. He needed people to know, as he said, "the buck stops at my desk." He needed them to know this was a personal humiliation, that he was unhappy with being lied to and, no matter how close or critical to his future the aides involved were, they would be paying a price for the way they abused the public's trust.

The Democrats are unlikely to let this go. In a state as thick with bipartisan corruption as New Jersey is, they may believe they have begun to pull on a thread that could unravel his entire administration and his presidential aspirations. They may get lucky. Then again, with Christie's approval ratings about to skyrocket among likely voters in the Garden State, he may shortly have the political capital to expend to push a bold, transformational agenda that will immediately give legitimacy to this idea of a Christie presidency rather than just a Christie presidential bid. 

  • Read Brad Bannon: Chris Christie's Bridge Closure Won't Hurt Him in 2016, But the Tea Party Might
  • Read Susan Milligan: Chris Christie's Bridge Debacle Shows a Personality Problem
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, an insider's guide to politics and policy.