By January 21 — the day of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s second inauguration — the political scandals dogging the undeclared Republican presidential hopeful had turned into deafening clamor.
Since winning the New Jersey governorship again in last November‘s election by a crushing margin, a victory that propelled him to the forefront of his party’s presidential contenders, his image has been marred. Two months ago, Christie was walking on water; now, he is treading water. Tuesday was not the triumphant moment most inaugurations turn out to be.
Christie’s staff spoiled his landslide victory with an exercise in political retribution: The governor’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, orchestrated an “unscheduled traffic study” to cause jams around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee to punish the town’s Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election. Soon to follow was another controversy. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer claims the Christie administration made Superstorm Sandy recovery funds contingent on her support of a commercial development project.
In his second inaugural address, Christie stuck to his favorite theme: the importance of moving beyond partisanship. “This election has taught us that the ways we divide each other — by race, by class, by ethnicity, by wealth, by political party — is neither permanent nor necessary,” he said. “Our dreams are the same: a good job, a great education for our children, safe streets in our neighborhood, and core values which give our lives real meaning.”
While he touched on immigration reform, education, and the value of small government, the governor did not address the scandals that have beset his administration. But in light of those controversies, the emphasis Christie put on the importance of his gubernatorial oath seemed to take on special meaning.
“Today, once again, the people of New Jersey have given me the opportunity to serve,” he said. “And once again, I have taken an oath where I have sworn to promote the peace and prosperity of our great state and its citizens. It is an oath that I have lived by for the last four years. It is the oath I will live by for every day I am privileged to call myself your governor.”
Christie laid out the kind of state he hoped to created: “A New Jersey that has put aside political partisanship on the important issues to our people to take advantage of the opportunities each of these challenges has presented us with every day. A New Jersey that has brought pride to our people and leadership to our country.”
His commitment to the construction of a better New Jersey was counterbalanced by his commitment to destruction — that is, tackling what is “politically unpopular.” Therein lies the key to his survival in the upcoming presidential campaign: Christie’s handling of what has come to be known as “Bridgegate” will act as a test of character for the presidential hopeful.
Already, Christie has taken an important step in admitting he failed on a certain level. After all, his administration allowed for an environment in which top aides felt petty political maneuvers were an appropriate reprisal as long as they went undetected. “I am a very sad person,” he said at last week’s news conference addressing the scandal coming to light.
It’s unlikely the current political scandals will extinguish Christie’s presidential aspirations, but they undoubtably represent a huge setback for the New Jersey governor if he does declare his intentions to run for the country’s highest political office.
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows he has lost ground to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama’s former secretary of state. The number of American voters who believe Christie would make a good president has decreased by 14 points from two months ago. In November, 41 percent of respondents said he was a strong presidential candidate; now just 35 percent hold that opinion.
More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet:
- Christie, Traffic, and Bridges, Oh My!
- How Negative Will Ads Be in Coming Elections?
- The Hill List: Clintons Ranked Democratic Friends and Foes
Follow Meghan on Twitter @MFoley_WSCS