Journalism v. hackery

Steve Kornacki is a reporter.

Jennifer Rubin is a partisan hack. So is Stuart Rothenberg. So is Ruben Navarette. And of course Rich Lowry.

Query: Is there anyone telling us now that Christie is, or might be, innocent who wasn’t telling us in October 2012 that Mitt Romney was going to win or that the election was “too close to call”?

Is the Christie campaign now a corpus?

Some political reporters have been parsing poll questions about whether Conegate makes people think better or worse of Gov. Soprano, and Christie’s cheerleaders are rejoicing over the results. I never know how to read those answers; it matters too much whether the X% who say they think better or worse of someone due to Y were previously for him, previously against him, or previously undecided, and the crosstab cell sizes are usually too small to say anything about that.

But this only matters because Christie was getting set for a Presidential run, and because Christie – and only Christie, in all the polls I’ve seen – was close to HRC in 2016 trial heats. In the CNN poll from December, for example, he was two points up, 48-46, with Paul Ryan down 52-44 and all the others were down by 13-21 points: e.g., Hillary 58, Jeb 37. (Quinnipiac also showed Christed doing best, though with the others not as far back.)

So: Here’s the latest from the Marist poll:

If Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie were to face off in the 2016 presidential election, Clinton would defeat Christie by double digits. Half of registered voters — 50% — would support Clinton compared with 37% for Christie. 12% are undecided. When Marist last reported this question in December, voters divided. 48% supported Clinton while 45% were behind Christie. Seven percent, at that time, were undecided.

And that, as they used to say back when newspaper copy was typed, is a

- 30 –

End of story.

Of course I still hope the cover-up breaks down, just to make Christie’s defenders look as stupid and unprincipled as they are. But in terms of Presidential politics, I’m not sure it matters. It looks to me as if the Republicans’ best chance to retake the White House in 2016 just got stuck in traffic.

Update Ooops! Ed Kilgore had this first. The way I look at it, if I’m only half a day behind Kilgore in political analysis, I’m doing OK.

Twitter as political haiku: Christie presser

Yes, the 140-character limit in Twitter can encourage superficiality. But Raw Story has a compilation of Tweets after this morning’s bout of histrionics, and some of them are pretty great. My favorites (lightly edited):

Steve Martin:

Governor throws aide under bus. Bus stuck in bridge traffic.

Bruce Arthur:

I do hope Chris Christie spends the rest of his life searching for the real traffic study.

Ben Jacobs:

If it’s a legitimate traffic study, the female body finds a way to shut the whole thing down.

Michael E. Cohen:

What do you call someone who dies because of a politically-inspired traffic jam? A “corpus Christie.”

 

Christie’s tangled web

Compare these two passages from Chris Christie’s cornered-rat press conference:

(1) Well, let me tell you, everybody, I was blindsided yesterday morning. I was done with my workout yesterday morning and got a call from my communications director at about 8:50, 8:55, informing me of this story that had just broken on the Bergen Record website. That was the first time I knew about this. That was the first time I had seen any of the documents that were revealed yesterday.

(2) And what does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask about me what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me? And there’s a lot of soul-searching that goes around with this. You know, when you’re a leader of an organization — and I’ve had this happen to me before, where I’ve had folks not tell me the truth about something — not since I’ve been governor but in previous leadership positions — you always wonder about what you could do differently. And believe me, John (sp), I haven’t had a lot of sleep the last two nights, and I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching. I’m sick over this. I’ve worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty and directness and blunt talk, one that I think is well-deserved. But, you know, when something like this happens, it’s appropriate for you to question yourself, and certainly I am. And I am soul-searching on this.

[emphasis added]

Last time I counted, between “yesterday morning” and “now” there is only one night. What was keeping the Governor awake the night before he was given the bad news? Prescience?

Mike O’Hare notes below that Christie’s account of why he fired Bridget Anne Kelly suggests a certain lack of proportion: lying to him counts for more than putting citizens’ lives in danger. He also notes that Christie’s failure to talk to his staff to see if their stories matched was slightly odd behavior for someone with experience in conducting investigations.

But if that was slightly odd, how bizarre is this?

I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since the email came out. And so she was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had. And I’m, quite frankly, not interested in the explanation at the moment.

Huh? Chris Christie, former prosecutor, wants to know what’s going on, but he’s so offended by having been lied to that he doesn’t call Kelly on the carpet and say, “OK, Bridget. You screwed up big time. Your job is on the line. Who the $#%* told you to pull this stupid %$#*ing stunt? Tell me the truth, tell me all the truth, tell me the truth right now, or you’re dead to me from this minute.” Srsly? Either he didn’t want to know what she would tell him, or he knew already and didn’t want to hear it.

And of course the same is true about Wildstein and Baroni. In working out their resignations, and before vouching for their innocence, did Christie really never ask them, “Who was behind this?” You can only disbelieve your suspenders for so long.

Christie gave (judging from the transcript) a great performance. But it just won’t wash. He has known for a month that the Executive Director of the Port Authority didn’t believe the “traffic study” story and considered the lane closure outrageous and probably criminal, and that Baroni, Christie’s $291,00o-a-year patronage appointee at the Port Authority, responded by saying “There can be no public discourse”: i.e., “We need to cover this up.” So Christie’s pretense that he only learned about the falsity of that fairytale this week is laughable.

Footnote Note to cynical political journalists:  Ordinary Americans are actually not OK with the blatant abuse of power. People in the heartland hate traffic jams as much as bicoastals do. And that old lady is still dead.

 

Journalistic query: Who got hurt in Ft. Lee?

When a politician calls a scandal involving himself “sensationalized,” you know he’s in deep yoghurt. When he says “mistakes were made,” the passive voice is a tell for near-panic. When he starts firing subordinates, that means he knows he’s near the edge of the cliff. And when he says he wants to “turn the page,” it’s a good bet the story is far from over.

The New York Times story on the Chris Christie/Ft. Lee gridlock story includes all four of those markers of a major affair in the making.

[For those of you joining us late, the background is that the Mayor of Ft. Lee, NJ, a Democrat refused to endorse Gov. Soprano for re-election, and suddenly, without warning, two of the three lanes on the on-ramp from Ft. Lee to the George Washington Bridge were closed during the first four days of school in September, gridlocking the city for four days. Fortnately, the mayor doesn’t seem to own a horse. See the scorching email from the Executive Director of the Port Authority to his subordinates unearthed by the Wall Street Journal.]

The punchline is that the Governor wants to know whether Ft. Lee should permanently lose access to the bridge, which seems to be a not-too-subtle way of telling Ft. Lee officials that even worse things could happen to them if they get too friendly with investigators.

What the story lacks so far is the voices of the victims. You can’t tie up traffic for four days in a town of 35,000 people without someone getting really and truly hosed. It’s not very likely that anyone actually died in an ambulance, or waiting for one (the death rate in a town that size is somewhere short of one per day), but I strongly suspect that there was more dramatic harm than kids being late for school and parents late for work. If I were running a journalist enterprise – or the DNC – I’d want to put a bunch of effort into shoe-leather reporting.

If you’re wondering how much damage this sort of story, properly exploited, can do to a national candidate, ask President Dukakis about Willie Horton, or the water quality in Boston Harbor.

Footnote The backstory about the first Port Authority official to resign is that he’s an old friend of the Governor’s who ran an anonymous political blog back when Christie was U.S. Attorney. The blog was, the Times reports, “noted for scoops from the United States attorney’s office.” I wonder whether the Inspector General of the Justice Department, or the Office of Professional Responsibility, has scanned those “scoops” for violations of Rule 6(e), which forbids the release of grand jury information?

Yes, Chris Christie is a thug

Looks like Tony Soprano, sounds like Tony Soprano, acts like Tony Soprano.

When the Mayor of Fort Lee refused to endorse him for re-election, Christie had his henchman in the Port Authority close the on-ramp from Ft. Lee to the George Washington Bridge. Then he and his buddies lied about it.

If you think about it, that’s much nastier than garden-variety corruption of the kind Christie engage in as United States Attorney, when he used deferred prosecution agreements to funnel money from corporate lawbreakers to his buddies – including another prosecutor who had declined to indict Christie’s brother – in return for not pressing criminal charges.

Christie as the GOP nominee for 2016? Bring it on!

Does this look like a President to you?

Me neither.

christiehatesteachers

After he finished yelling at a teacher “I’m tired of you people!” Christie called a state Senator he’d like to see defeated “an animal.”

Some political journalists seem to think that the Soprano-for-President campaign might go somewhere. I really, really doubt it. Even if Chris Christie were able to send his inner spoiled child to its room, there’d still be the sleaze to deal with.

Does the Tea Party Want to Win Elections?

Kevin Drum ponders what he calls a “timid” National Review article about the Tea Party by Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru. Drum agrees with L&P’s diagnosis that the Tea Party needs to appreciate the value of winning national elections if it wants to shape national policy, but raises this challenge:

OK, but how will conservatives win more elections? L&P explicitly disavow the notion of the party turning left, suggesting only that they’re skeptical of “the idea that moving in the opposite direction will in itself pay political dividends.” But if they have no concrete suggestions—either in policy or tone or messaging or something—then this is just mush.

Well, maybe. But there is an alternative explanation. L&P are probably more in touch than is Drum (or me) with the pulse of Tea Party at the moment. L&P may have concluded that the alienation, rage and self-indulgence in that corner of the world are such that persuading Tea Partiers that elections matter is indeed a significant task of its own, much as it was with some leftist factions in the 1960s and 1970s. You can’t tell people how to do something that they don’t want to do in the first place. If you feel that the country is lost, that your values have been rejected and the entire system is corrupt, politics can become simply an outlet for rage. That may be the ledge the Tea Party is on, post-government-shut-down humiliation.

This same observation is germane to Andrew Sullivan’s otherwise compelling analysis of Chris Christie’s electability. It assumes that the Tea Party cares about winning elections, and therefore will embrace the big guy from Jersey. It used to be that the rightmost wing of the Republican Party always lined up for the establishment choice in the end, but maybe this time around they will simply be in the mood to express their fury via a Quixotic Cruzade for one of their own.

Chris Christie’s Got “It”

Clara Bow was Hollywood’s original starlet with “It”, that undefinable quality that made people immediately like her. Politicians who lack “it” (e.g., Mitt Romney) have a hard time getting elected, no matter how much money they spend and how much policy detail they master. Politicians who have “it” (e.g., Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan) in contrast are lifted by their likeability among voters, so much so that they can for example be returned to office even in rough economic times.

People who don’t understand politics often respond to an enemy politician’s likeability by screeching “Well, voters won’t like him/her once they find out that (insert long indictment of the politician’s policy record here)”. But what arch-liberals learned to their great pain during Reagan’s Presidency and arch-conservatives are learning during President Obama’s is that blistering attacks of this sort tend to boomerang. The attacker’s fellow partisans may love it, but swing voters react by feeling protective of the politician, i.e., “who’s that nasty person beating up on someone I really like?”

Of the Republicans who might run for President in 2016, who’s got “it”?: Chris Christie. His performance on Letterman, which left his host in stitches, was about a good as you will see (The doughnut, and his beautifully delivered explanation for it, were particularly masterful). He comes across in a way that Romney never did: As a regular, accessible and unpretentious person with whom many people would be happy to have a beer. And being fat helps: Americans have historically liked hefty presidents and they probably like them more now that obesity is prevalent and they enjoy comparison points that don’t make them feel bad about their own waistline.

About 40% of Americans are going to vote Republican in 2016 no matter what, and a similar proportion will vote Democratic no matter what. The rest of the voting population may well be swayed by something no more complicated than a sense that they “just kinda like him/her for some reason”. That isn’t what a policy wonk wants to believe, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Christie’s got “it” and that means he has a real shot at the top job if he wants it. And for the same reason, GOP proposals to split the electoral college vote in Virginia and Pennsylvania by district are self-defeating because Christie’s the kind of likeable candidate who could put those states back in the R column.

2016 is a long, long way off, but I’m keeping my eye on the big fella from Jersey.