The nationally reported controversy engulfing Chris Christie continues, as New Jersey’s Republican governor is still failing to navigate the political minefield now known as “CopterGate.”
It is an issue irrelevant to governing the state, but is turning into an agenda-threatening quagmire from which the governor has yet to extricate himself.
It’s unfortunate, because given the widespread attention generated from Christie’s substantial achievements, the governor has been untouchable. Until now.
For 18 months, political foes winced in despair as they saw that Christie was an immovable object who reined in out-of-control public sector unions, put the brakes on state spending and made teachers more accountable, all while not raising taxes.
He was a man on a mission, barnstorming the state to sell his ideas and explain why painful cuts were necessary. Chris Christie, unlike some other Republican governors from critical swing states, understood what the bully pulpit was, and redefined how to use it to maximum effect.
He is a leader who rarely reads a speech, and never avoids the media. His down-to-earth and sometimes in-your-face style resonates not just with the state, but with the nation as well.
But there is a danger in Christie having such an aggressive personality, given that he is involved in so many controversial issues and holds himself to a higher standard.
Christie is just now learning that concept.
The governor recently took a state police helicopter to his son’s high school baseball game, landing in full view of the spectators. Several innings into the game, he took off and flew to the governor’s mansion to meet with presidential fundraisers from Iowa.
Christie, caught off guard by the ensuing firestorm, voluntarily reimbursed the state police for the first leg of the trip, and had the state GOP organization reimburse the trip to the mansion.
At a press conference, he did not apologize, stating that he made the reimbursement so as not to “allow” the media and political “hacks” to turn the issue into a circus. He also said that he would not “permit” the issue to divert attention from Jersey’s serious problems.
But the governor should know those things are beyond his control. Not only isn’t the story going away, but the Democrats are undoubtedly producing attack ads where they will label Christie as hypocritical and elitist.
Perception is reality, and Christie’s adversaries are ensuring that the public and media perceive the issue to be more important than it is. Legislators have even called for hearings.
It’s classic Politics 101. When you can’t beat your opponent, find something juicy (but unimportant), and run with it. Getting a powerhouse like Chris Christie off track is just as good as defeating his agenda.
Christie is too strong to be down for long. But there are certain truisms that he would be wise to understand, especially if he runs for president:
1) You are a Republican, and there is a double standard. The media is a facilitator of that, and it’s not changing anytime soon.
2) You are not a do-nothing governor. The fact that you are winning in heavily-unionized, Democratic New Jersey is remarkable. But that makes you a target, and your adversaries, for once, hit a bulls-eye. Don’t give them another opportunity, since they cannot win on the issues.
3) Rationalizations for dubious political moves only make the situation worse. The issue is not a Governor using a state helicopter, but using it for personal and political trips.
4) No one disputes that you are a dedicated father who cherishes watching your son’s games, but most parents feel the same way, a majority of whom cannot make their children’s games due to work constraints. Your use of state resources in this situation does not make you look like a man of the people.
5) The only way not to “permit” serious issues from being sidetracked, and not “allowing” the media and the “hacks” to turn these types of issues into a “circus,” is to not give them the material to do so.
Gov. Christie has done the impossible. He has made New Jersey relevant and competitive, and, more important, brought a palpable sense of pride back to residents of the Garden State. In doing so, he has also made many enemies who have been breathlessly waiting to pounce on the governor for his first mistake.
While he opened the door for them in a way that was preventable, he has the force of personality to slam it shut by not repeating that kind of mistake. For the sake of New Jersey, let’s hope he does, so that his remarkable successes do not get overshadowed.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative
reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com
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