The fallout from the revelation that top aides to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie engineered a massive traffic disruption as political payback dominated that Sunday political talk shows, with supporters and detractors of the embattled governor lining up along predictable political lines.
Christie, seen until this week as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2016 election, has his base of support among the old-line establishment Republicans, and that’s who came to his defense on Sunday.
On Fox News Sunday, political strategist Karl Rove, praised Christie’s performance nearly two-hour press conference Thursday, saying the governor “did himself a lot of good.” Rove said the “jury is still out” on how the brash style that has played well for Christie in New Jersey will sell in other parts of the country, “But that was going to be the big question anyway.”
On This Week with George Stephanopoulos, former New York Mayor and one-time presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said that Christie’s blanket denial that he had any knowledge of the bridge closing was “pretty darn credible.”
Giuliani’s analysis might have seemed a bit more credible had he stopped there, but the former mayor went on to characterize the deliberate crippling of an entire town, including school buses and emergency response vehicles as the sort of thing that “happens all the time.”
“He was in campaign mode,” Giuliani said, noting that the closure of two out of three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in the town of Fort Lee happened during Christie’s reelection campaign. “This is what happens in political operations. People get wrong messages.”
On the same show Adam Kinzinger, a Republican Congressman from Indiana who is facing a Tea Party-backed challenger in his next race, also praised Christie’s response to the unfolding scandal.
“I think he took the bull by the horns,” Kinzinger said. “If he comes out of this untarnished it may set him up for 2016.”
The ultra-conservative Tea Party, where Christie has far less support, was not heavily represented in the Sunday shows, except for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who spoke with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. Rubio, also believed to be a potential contender for the Republican nomination in 2016, pointedly declined to throw Christie a lifeline.
“I think it would be a mistake for me and others like me to comment on this,” Rubio said. He said he would “reserve judgment” rather than “delve into the political speculation.”
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus tried to strike a middle ground. “Everyone is fallible David,” he said to Meet the Press host David Gregory. “We all make mistakes…the real question is what you do when mistakes happen.”
Regardless of where they stood on the Republican Party divide, virtually every member of the GOP asked to discuss the Christie scandal attempted to turn the discussion to President Obama’s handling of the Benghazi attacks, the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of political groups, and Obamacare.
Priebus who had loudly blamed President Obama for creating a “culture” in which the IRS targeting had occurred, persistently dodged questions about whether Christie should be held accountable for the culture among his senior staff.
For their part, some Democrats appearing on the Sunday shows were ready to write Christie’s political obituary.
“He was winning the invisible primary because he was the only one visible,” said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile “His brand is now tarnished, he’s in a no-win position and Republicans now have to go back to the drawing board to find someone like Chris Christie to run in 2016.”
New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Democrat heading the legislative investigation of the bridge closing, expressed serious doubt about Christie’s professed ignorance of the scheme.
“I don’t think it’s credible for a governor to have his chief of staff, his communications director, his deputy chief of staff, his chief counsel all involved in email communications on the day this took place and the days after talking not only about the problems that were created in Fort Lee but also talking about how to spin it to the press…and for the governor to absolutely have no communication,” he said. “It strains credibility that they didn’t look at those documents and say we ought to let him know about this.”
Wisniewski added, “If the governor knew…that raises serious questions that the assembly ought to look at. The assembly has the ability to do articles of impeachment. “
Follow Rob Garver on Twitter @rrgarver
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