Last week, in the largest, most significant political scandal since the great “Aqua Buddha” debacle of 2010 that famously cost Rand Paul the Senate election in Kentucky, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has had all his future political ambitions thwarted by traffic on a bridge.
This is, of course, an oversimplification of the petty partisan plot to close down several lanes on one of the busiest bridges in America. That staffers could think it a good idea to cause unbearable traffic simply because the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee endorsed the Democratic candidate for governor instead of the Republican incumbent shows a level of callousness toward innocent residents that should not be taken lightly. The fifth has already been plead by one of the staffers implicated in the scandal, and one 91-year-old woman died of a heart attack at the hospital, raising questions of her time running out due to traffic. While the scandal itself is no laughing matter, the media claims that this will doom Christie’s future attempts at elective office, which will likely include a run for president in 2016, are greatly overstated.
Firstly, a caveat: If Christie is in any way directly implicated in the scheme or if anything he said in his marathon press conference can be proven to be deliberately misleading, he probably won’t have a good shot at the nomination in 2016. That would, rightfully, finish him.
But so far there has been no evidence of this, and Christie appears innocent enough to be comfortable answering literally every single question reporters had to ask him in a press conference that lasted nearly two hours.
Further, the scandal has yet to have any noticeable effect on Christie’s political prospects. Sure, recent polling by Monmouth University indicates his approval rating within New Jersey dropped –to 59 percent. A majority of all political groups have long held net favorable opinions of Christie, and according to Pew Research, in light of this scandal, majorities of all political groups say their opinion of him is unchanged.
What is most striking about this polling data is that it occurs only a week after the scandal broke. This is the crucial reason why this will have no effect on the race in 2016: If people don’t care while the story is hot, two years before the election will make them care even less. This scandal will be — pardon the inexcusable pun — water under the bridge by the time voters check off names on a ballot. Most will have forgotten about it entirely, and it will be a tiny blip on the radar of those that haven’t.
The media is making so much bigger a deal of this story than it truly is because frankly, the early weeks of January tend not to be very exciting. Rarely is there big political news to discuss until the State of the Union address toward the end of the month. Christie is a huge player in Republican politics. Americans hate traffic, and political retribution that makes life unbearable for innocent citizens who are unlikely unable to even name the mayor of Fort Lee is a big story. But it is irresponsible for them to blow the political ramifications of this example of politics at its worst into the career-ending (and horribly named) “Bridgegate” some seem to want to report it as.
Keene is a senior majoring in political science, economics and public policy.