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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Chris Christie: Crossing The Bridge To Resignation?

Chris Christie must be considering resigning as Governor.
"Bridgegate" is revealing long-suspected truths (including suspicions held by this commentator and expressed since this blog began in 2009) which are unpalatable to many voters and particularly to those who are apprehensive about growing government power (regardless of the party in charge).  Among other articles, see this critique from July 2010 of Christie's involvement with a nonprofit political group exempt from federal taxation under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. 
The resignation question was first broached publicly by WNBC-TV reporter Brian Thompson at the Thursday press conference.  It will not be the last time the question is asked, not unless Christie actually resigns before his next encounter with reporters or even checks his Twitter account (@GovChristie).
When do politicians resign? 
Criminal charges do not force them from office; well, not until they are taken out in cuffs.  Elected officials routinely win after being investigated, indicted and even convicted. (See former Union City Mayor William Musto, reelected the day after his federal conviction in May 1982.)
Politicians resign their offices when the public adulation and power rush they feel gets replaced by contempt (whether from colleagues, family, the public or the press) and they cannot escape a sense of crushing humiliation or sense of being utterly disrespected.  Elected officials quickly go from the center of attention to acutely feeling they have been abandoned by their friends and allies and left to fend off a growing swarm of sharks sensing blood in the water.  These sharks can be political or personal enemies, or the press, or the general public. 
When the target's sense of hurt becomes so deep that it cannot be repaired, or that the attacks from outside (all sources) become so unrelenting that no answer, no press conference, no amount of hiding can offer a respite, the target reaches a tipping point where resignation may be the only way to stop the pain.
So is Chris Christie reaching the tipping point?
Consider that the most conservative columnist in New Jersey (my opinion and his) if not the entire country (his opinion) is now comparing Bridgegate with Watergate.
And now his political friends are beginning to abandon him.  Just moments ago, the Washington Post posted an article quoting former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean Sr. (with whom Christie got his start in politics as a teenage campaign volunteer) as asking,
" look at these other qualities and ask, do you really want that in your president?"
Each of these commentaries was posted in the last three hours  early Saturday morning (January 11th) right as I was drafting the original version of this article (since revised to add material).
Also consider that the New Jersey State Assembly Transportation Committee, which is investigating Bridgegate, unanimously voted to hold Christie's Port Authority lackey David Wildstein (fka Wally Edge) in contempt.  The unanimous vote from Republicans indicates that state Republicans may be about to abandon Christie.  (UPDATE: Assemblyman Wisniewski says impeachment is a possibility.) 
That is significant, given that Christie was recently rebuked by a majority of the State Senate Republican Caucus when he tried to replace current Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. (yes, the son of the aforementioned former Governor) with ally Senator Kevin O'Toole.  This shows Christie's previous iron-grip discipline on the New Jersey Republican Party may have been shaken.  Now it may be gone.

So, will Christie actually resign?

Here's the argument for why he would.  I do not see an emasculated, humiliated Chris Christie remaining in any environment where he is disrespected and mocked behind his back.  He will resign if he reaches a tipping point, not because he is forced to but because he likely will see no point in remaining in a Governor's Office when his interest and power in the position are no longer there.  Besides, resignation gets him out of Trenton and out of the state, the sooner to run for President.  Christie might actually welcome the prospect.

Note that my argument states why he might resign, but I will add that such a move would not necessarily represent or convey weakness or surrender.  It would be a strategic retreat, a move designed to remove oneself from battle (that being the maelstrom of a media feeding frenzy), allow the controversy to die down and then reappear on the field of battle after regrouping or reinventing himself.  It reminds me of none other than H. Ross Perot, who chose to pull out of the 1992 Presidential race days after his embarrassing "you people" remark before the NAACP in order to stop the media attacks.  Note that Perot always continued his ballot access efforts in New York (where I got my start as an election lawyer), and formally returned to the same campaign in October 1992 and rose in the polls from a one percent protest vote to 17% in the national popular vote.

In support of my argument that he could resign, I will cite the comebacks of two famous recent New York elected officials who resigned only to return.  Eliot Spitzer resigned as New York State Governor in March 2008 -- perhaps as part of a deal with authorities to avoid prosecution.  Spitzer then returned to the political scene in 2013, but only once the five-year federal statute of limitations had conveniently expired, to run for New York City Comptroller and lose narrowly in the Democratic primary.  The other comeback, of course, is that of Anthony Weiner. The former Brooklyn-Queens congressman resigned in June 2011 to put an end to unrelenting public humiliation following the revelations of his inappropriate use of social media.

With both Spitzer and Weiner, the impetus for resignation was the loss of their respect in the eyes of a large segment of the public. (This is also true for former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, who resigned in his famous July 2004 "I am a gay American" speech and following his disgracing of ex-wife Dina Matos McGreevey, has chosen not to return to politics.)  While Spitzer's power in the State Capitol (first as Attorney General and then Governor) was unquestioned, few remember that Weiner was one of the most strident defenders of Obamacare from the time of its proposal.  Both elected officials commanded lots of respect and attention.  However, their respective scandals sharply diminished their clout.  It is possible that both could have remained in office, but the attention their scandals would have continued to receive would have drowned out anything else they tried to do and left them largely ineffective or ignored in all other regards.  Therefore, for both Spitzer and Weiner there was little point in remaining in office under such circumstances and especially when no end to the scandals was in sight.  Resignation, in each case, became a strategic move as opposed to a legal necessity.

One cannot credibly predict any probability of resignation, only that Christie is on a highway with some signs pointing in that direction.  But even if Christie does resign, he can regroup and return to public life.  It is easy to imagine him running in 2016, no matter what. Segments of the political media and, of course, political opponents, are rushing to write his political epitaph.  That is way, way too premature.

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