Earlier today I argued that the messaging wars over Bridgegate don't matter very much. What matters are the facts. If it turns out that Chris Christie really played no role in the lane closures, he'll probably survive. But if evidence surfaces that he knew more than he's letting on, he's doomed.
Via Twitter, Jonathan Bernstein disagreed: "Facts matter, but so do interpretations." I sort of lamely responded by saying that I never really thought Christie had a serious chance at the presidency anyway. So really, neither facts nor interpretation will make much difference. He's not going to be the 45th president of the United States.
But why? Jonathan Chait provides part of the argument:
There are now two ongoing investigations into alleged abuses of power, each of which is potentially fatal. Even if neither produces further damaging allegations, they both have already yielded enough public information to be used against him. Beyond that, there is a long list of potential scandals dating back to before his governorship. The odds that any one of them develops into something indictable are high.
And they’re not just high in the mathematical sense that a person who gets shot at a bunch of times is more likely to be hit by a bullet. They’re high because the high number of scandals surrounding Christie, and the pattern of gleefully using his power to punish his foes, suggests that at least some of the allegations against him are true. The odds of any scandal striking pay dirt are not mathematically independent. The deeper problem is simply that Christie appears to be genuinely corrupt on a scale that is rare for a modern top-tier presidential candidate.
The scandals don't kill Christie's chance in the sense that Republican voters will read the news stories and decide irrevocably they can never vote for the man. The way it works is to create a series of liabilities that his opponents can easily exploit: regional (an untrustworthy Northeastern political boss), personal (the traitor who hugged President Obama and thereby handed him the election), and ideological (gun-controlling, Obamacare-surrendering moderate).
Yep. Here's my nickel list of why I've never thought Christie can win either the Republican nomination or—in the unlikely event he does—the presidency:
- He's very, very attackable. The ads practically write themselves. Neither his fellow Republicans nor his eventual Democratic opponent will be shy about exploiting this.
- He's fat. I know that's not fair, but it's not fair that Obama is black or Hillary is a woman, either. It's a liability regardless of whether it's fair.
- His bullying of random citizens can seem vaguely like a breath of fresh air when you see it occasionally and from a distance. But if you see it up close, all the time—as you will during a presidential campaign—it won't wear well.
- He has too many nonconservative positions. Mitt Romney did too, and even though he spent years disowning his earlier self and prostrating himself to the tea party, conservatives still never really trusted him. Christie isn't the kind of guy who's even willing to do that much, and that means the Republican base will be even less inclined to trust him.
I could see Christie winning if the country were undergoing some kind of horrific disaster, like the Great Depression. In a case like that, it's possible that Americans would just want someone who'd kick all the right asses and wouldn't much care about the other stuff. But 2016 seems likely to be a fairly ordinary year, with a decent economy and no huge foreign crises. If that's how it turns out, I have a hard time seeing how Christie manages to win.