The all-hands-on-deck strategy recalls the heyday of the 1990s Clinton scandals. | AP Photos
For years, Chris Christie was one of the country’s most gifted political thespians: More than any other contemporary Republican, he mastered the art of crafting dramatic moments for TV and online consumption and watching the nation thrill to the raw force of his personality.
Now, the New Jersey governor, whose aides once took pride in creating viral videos of his town hall smack-downs, is battling a set of adversaries wielding many of the same media tools against him.
The Garden State’s unfurling retribution scandal — in which at least three Christie associates have been tied to a scheme to deliberately disrupt traffic near the George Washington Bridge — has quickly become a case study in the evolution of the powerful messaging apparatus that national Democrats have built in the Obama era.
The Christie uproar would be a sensational story under any circumstances, thanks to the governor’s status as a leading presidential contender and a set of raw facts that are alternately troubling and profoundly entertaining. Christie’s aides and appointees didn’t need much help getting themselves into deep trouble. But with only a minor show of force from an array of entities on the left, “Bridgegate” has become a full-blown national political maelstrom.
And this time, Christie may not be stronger than the storm.
Most voters following the Bergen County intrigue likely found out about it last week, when the Record newspaper obtained emails showing that Christie’s deputy chief of staff had sent a message apparently green-lighting the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
But for nearly a month prior to the publication of those emails, the Democratic National Committee was plugging away at an anti-Christie message that has now become the talk of the political world and that a web of liberal groups, politicians and talk-show hosts have joined together to amplify.