Christie could emerge stronger from bridge scandal

By DOUG IBENDAHL • January 12, 2014


Last week was a tough one for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and the schadenfreude was immediately evident from some diverse quarters.


You have of course Democrats gleeful that Christie’s been taken down a notch. Few others on the Republican field are seen as a serious barrier to Hillary Clinton or other likely Democratic nominee winning the White House in 2016.


And then there are the Republicans whose dislike of Obama is so intense they’re still sore about Christie having the audacity to walk on the beach with the President of the United States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.


But rumors of Christie’s political demise may be greatly exaggerated.


I watched the Governor’s entire press conference of January 9. His explanation strikes me as credible, and his willingness to stay and answer every question was refreshing. Assuming he keeps up this level of openness on the matter I think he’ll appeal to a lot of voters of various stripes who are tired of the typical dodgeball playing politicians.


The bridge scandal is ironic on one level. The pure pettiness of the thing makes it a bigger deal for most people, and that’s a reasonable reaction. The question is would Christie himself knowingly engage in such small ball? My gut tells me no – that a guy who among other things served for six years as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey would have immediately put the kibosh on such a juvenile political stunt had he known about it.


People can disappoint you in any profession but politics more than most endeavors is a magnet for people who just can’t seem to resist a retaliatory game, no matter how immature and stupid. And sometimes no matter how trustworthy someone might have seemed, they do something to betray that trust.


The real test of character for the boss is what does he do once he gets the facts? Here, Christie is clearing the decks. He immediately fired a top aide, and at the same time asked his two-time campaign manager to withdraw his name from consideration for state party chair.


Christie’s response reminds me of what remains the textbook model for crisis management. When in 1982 seven people died in the Chicago area after ingesting cyanide-laced capsules of Tylenol, most observers assumed the best-selling brand was doomed.


But Johnson & Johnson reacted immediately and spent more than $100 million on a recall and relaunch of Tylenol. The company’s openness and honesty preserved the public’s trust, and the brand not only recovered, it went on to prosper.


History is littered with the remains of once high-flying politicians who didn’t have the good sense and decency to level with their constituents. Illinois’ own George Ryan for example almost surely could have avoided prison had he cleared the decks as soon as the license-for-bribes scandal broke. Even Richard Nixon might have avoided resignation had he cleaned house immediately – and possibly even if he was arguably privy to criminal acts early on.


It’s become cliché’ to say “the cover-up is worse than the crime,” but it’s usually true. And as a long-time former prosecutor, Christie surely gets it.


Chris Christie isn’t out of the woods yet of course. If it turns out he’s been dishonest in any way on this matter, he’s done.


We should all welcome further investigation. And if it turns out Christie has lied, I’ll be the first to say that not only are his presidential aspirations finished, but he should also resign as governor.


But absent such evidence which so far is not in the record, I predict the Chris Christie brand comes through this storm just fine.


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.


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