Despite the fantasies of the pundits and political operatives who imagine Chris Christie as some kind of moderate, he is more than sufficiently conservative to secure the Republican presidential nomination. By most reasonable measures, Christie is a strikingly consistent social and economic conservative. So it is not ideology that is most likely to trip up Christie in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
It is his style. The New Jersey governor’s take-no-prisoners approach to politics has always been his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.
Christie’s style helped him get traction in New Jersey. His brash pronouncements and bold gestures made him a national media darling. That’s a big deal in a state that is sandwiched between the New York and Philadelphia media markets. A politician who can make himself heard, even if he might be edgier than many voters prefer, has an advantage. The governor’s style has also had appeal in the upper echelons of a Republican Party that hungers for standard-bearers with a little more dynamism than Mitch McConnell.
But in order to bid for the presidency, Christie must connect with Republicans in small-town Iowa and suburban New Hampshire. And what got Christie to Trenton won’t necessarily get him through Des Moines and Concord.
Even when they criticize public education unions, conservatives in Iowa don’t usually yell at teachers. And New Hampshire politicians are not often linked to schemes to punish political foes that create massive headaches for people who just want to get to work.
So it is that Chris Christie’s “traffic problem” extends well beyond North Jersey.
What started as a bizarre story of access lanes, gridlock and alleged political retribution has grown into a very serious political concern for the governor. The tale began to unfold in September, when access lanes to the heavily trafficked George Washington Bridge were closed—supposedly for a traffic study. The closures created massive gridlock in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a community where the Democratic mayor had refused to join a number of other Democrats in backing Christie’s 2013 re-election bid.
Christie was well ahead in that bid, so it was hard to believe that he or his aides and allies would have even considered punishing the mayor—and by extension New Jersey commuters—to make a crude political point.