Expert: Chris Christie Bouncing Back as Presidential Contender

Image: Expert: Chris Christie Bouncing Back as Presidential Contender

Monday, 30 Jun 2014 11:35 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is rebuilding his image and slowly winning back his popularity after months of being in the public doghouse over the bridge-gate scandal.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of public affairs at Princeton University, writes in an opinion piece on  CNN.com that the Republican governor has repaired his reputation to such an extent that he once again can be considered a potential presidential GOP candidate.

Zelizer said that Christie’s appearances at a charity softball game in Yankee Stadium and on "The Tonight Show" have helped GOP voters to warm up to him again.

The political author also noted that a recent poll has shown him narrowing likely Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s lead over him in Iowa.

Zelizer says Christie has employed four principles for surviving political scandals that have put his White House aspirations back on track:

Avoid the smoking gun

Christie has never been directly linked to the traffic nightmare on the George Washington Bridge, which was blamed on his aides creating the chaos as political payback for a mayor refusing to endorse him.

Zelizer wrote: "In certain cases, American voters are willing to give the benefit of doubt to the person accused — especially in a heated partisan environment where investigations and accusations often turn out to be unfounded — until there is evidence in hand that the politician is guilty beyond any doubt."

Zelizer, author of "Jimmy Carter" and "Governing America," added, "The absence of a smoking gun of illegal activity has been very important in this case."

Time your scandal well

Although the bridge-gate scandal erupted when his popularity was at a "high point," it still gave Christie plenty of time to bounce back before the presidential primaries.

"As with everything else in politics, timing is everything when it comes to scandal," wrote Zelizer, whose new book, "The Fierce Urgency of Now" will be published by Penguin Books in January. "There is a huge amount of time still remaining until the political season really begins."

Keep governing

"Christie has followed the Bill Clinton playbook,"  Zelizer said. "When faced with bad press and damaging allegations, keep doing the job that you were elected to do.

"During the past months, Christie has continued to focus on his work in New Jersey. By doing so, he continues to give the public opportunity to evaluate him a leader in action, rather than just the subject of investigation, and to charge that the accusers are more concerned in scandal than solving problems."

Remind your party it needs you

Zelizer points out that several potential Republican candidates in 2016 are "untested or have serious political weaknesses," and thus the GOP might need Christie to be the party’s savior in 2016.

"Christie receives considerable protection just from the fact that Republicans don't have so many alternatives," Zelizer wrote. "Desperate to regain the White House, Republicans have been willing to give him some slack as the story unfolds."

In summing up, Zelizer added, "At this point, Christie is still showing some signs of life and remains a player on the political field. He still has the potential to join the list of politicians who have stared scandal in the face and survived politically."

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