If there is a singular skill that separates presidential contenders from presidential “also-rans” it is discipline. The ability to stay on message, to keep emotions in check, to avoid distractions, to understand that the long-game must take precedence over the daily news cycle and to dodge the inevitable political headaches that emerge is essential to political success on a national stage.
Obama has it; W had it; Nixon (at least in public) was practically the king. Here’s who doesn’t have it: Chris Christie, and it’s the reason that his political career is on life support.
Even before the bombshell revelations that his top aides actively sought to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey by closing down on-ramps to the George Washington Bridge, it was fairly obvious that Christie was a man whose decisions were guided as much by impulse and emotion as political calculation.
There have been not one or two but repeated losses of his temper, even with his own constituents. This video of Christie yelling at a skeptic on the Jersey boardwalk while holding aloft an ice cream cone spoke to Christie’s remarkable inability (particularly for a politician) to control his temper. He couldn’t even prevent himself from yelling at a teacher who questioned his education policies only days before Election Day in November.
To be sure, lots of politicians are thin-skinned. But Christie is different, with his almost complete lack of impulse control. An article last month in the New York Times highlighted Christie’s struggles. After John F McKeon, a New Jersey assemblyman, offered a mild critique of Christie’s relationship with public sector employees, he received a handwritten note complaining about it. “What governor would take the time to write a personal note over a relatively innocuous comment?” asked McKeon.
But this behavior fits a regular pattern of reprisals and retaliation against anyone who even mildly crosses Christie.
A disciplined politician would understand the pitfalls of making so many political enemies and of acting so harshly in public. But not Christie, which leads us to this week’s “Bridge-gate”.
What is perhaps most striking about these actions is that they were directed at a small-town mayor who refused to endorse Christie in a gubernatorial race in 2013 that he had basically no chance of losing. Christie was always going to wallop his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono. The real subtext of the race was the governor’s entrance onto the national stage as a Republican presidential contender. If there was ever a moment to let bygones be bygones or to turn the other cheek, it was here.
Of course, Christie has decided to use the Captain Renault defense, “‘I’m shocked, shocked that my aides would do this.” He even claimed (we can only assume with a straight face) that, “this behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way.” It’s the rhetoric equivalent of a drone strike on irony.
We may never know for sure, but personally, I don’t buy for a second the notion that Christie’s deputy chief of staff and his hand-picked choice for the Port Authority were operating independently of Christie. That he has a long track record of personally striking back at political opponents who cross him – but sat this one out – stretches credibility. As the New York Times noted:
Even Republican lawmakers who have supported Mr Christie tell stories of being punished when he perceived them as not supporting him enough.
At this point, the New Jersey governor has lost any right to the benefit of the doubt.
Even if Christie wasn’t involved, what does it say about the culture in the governor’s office? What kind of shop is he running when one of his most trusted aides would feel comfortable conspiring with the Port Authority to use lane closures as a way to punish Christie’s political opponents? Even if Christie was at arms length on the bridge closures, his fingerprints are all over this.
It’s why that when the smoke clears not only will Christie no longer be the front-runner for the Republican nomination – there’s a reasonable chance he’ll no longer be Governor of New Jersey. To be sure, it was always going to be difficult for Christie to win over Republican primary voters – what with his willingness to shake hands with President Obama and his feint toward political moderation. But the bigger problem for Christie was cultural. Republicans voters like a tough guy, but there’s toughness and then there’s Jersey toughness. These aren’t the same things.
Above all what today’s revelations demonstrate is that he simply lacked the discipline to be a national figure, to undergo political scrutiny and to respond to political differences with something other than fury. He was a ticking time bomb as a politician. It was only a matter of time before he blew up.
Trump’s quid pro quo isn’t Mitch McConnell’s only headache
William Taylor is the US senior diplomat to Ukraine. He gave testimony to Congress Wednesday confirming what we already know: the president held up aid in exchange for Ukraine’s president to announce publicly that he was investigating Joe Biden.
That, my friend, is a quid pro quo.
Ukraine ambassador didn’t just blow the lid off Trump’s conspiracy — he hinted at a whole lot more
I hear a lot of pundits and analysts insisting that the Democrats have finally decided to move on impeachment because the Ukraine scandal is so easy to understand. They also insist that all the earlier evidence of Donald Trump's lawbreaking, such as the 10 obstruction of justice charges in the Mueller report and the ongoing violations of the emoluments clause, should be set aside as articles of impeachment because they are simply too confusing. That is nonsense. It's the same story.
It's true that the notorious phone call and the testimony of the parties in the Ukraine scandal show a simple quid pro quo. But all the Rudy Giuliani shenanigans with people whose names most of us can't easily pronounce and Russian mobsters and secret meetings in exotic world capitals is just as crazy as the Russia investigation. It even features some of the same players, such as former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Republicans are clearly spooked as the most dangerous witness in Trump’s impeachment speaks to Congress
Ever since texts from the behind-the-scenes State Department efforts to induce Ukraine into investigating President Donald Trump’s political opponents were released, it’s been clear that the House’s impeachment inquiry desperately needed to hear from acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor.
While much of what is publicly known about the Trump administration’s machinations with Ukraine is already impeachable, texts sent by Taylor, first provided to the House by U.S. envoy Kurt Volker, showed an even darker scheme at work. And they also suggested that Taylor, of all the people involved in the efforts, was most alarmed about and willing to speak out with regard to Trump’s wrongdoing. In one particularly memorable text, Taylor told another official of Trump’s Ukraine plot: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” This implicated the president directly in criminal, and undoubtedly impeachable, activity.