WASHINGTON, January 9, 2014 — Yesterday was a day of scandals that have far reaching implications for careers and for the very future of this country.
Yesterday it was reported that several high-level staff members in the office of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were involved in petty, punitive measures against Ft. Lee Mayor Mark Socolitch for not supporting Christie in the last election.
On the same day, it was reported that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s new book slams former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama for their conduct of America’s foreign policy.
Do you remember Herman Cain? The Conservative gentleman from Georgia ran for president on a 9/9/9 tax platform. He was ahead in the polls when stories were “leaked” about an affair with a woman who it seems was a pathological liar. Cain was, unfortunately, out of the race.
Do you remember Texas Governor Rick Perry? Perry was a favorite among Conservatives and had a decent shot at making it to the show. His adventure into national politics was harmed when it was discovered that he hunted on the grounds of a ranch that contained a racial slur in its name. After being blasted in the media as a racist and a bigot, he was out as well.
Apparently the liberals had had enough of Texas governors.
Don’t fly too close to the sun, Icarus, or you will melt your wings.
Some of Christie’s aids and appointees were responsible for shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge. They managed to put Ft. Lee into gridlock and make life miserable for Mayor Socolitch. Traffic was terrible, children could not get to school, and EMS responders were delayed in getting to emergency sites. Meanwhile, people within the Christie administration who orchestrated the mess celebrated and “high-fived” by email.
This was incredibly stupid. It risked — and resulted in — huge political costs for no discernible gain at all, just the satisfaction of petty vindictiveness. In fact, the pettiness of it all is almost as breathtaking as the stupidity. Nothing could come of this except a scandal. The lane closures could not even be used as leverage to get anything useful from anyone.
Christie comes out of this looking like Rahm Emanuel, though less competent — Emanuel would have buried the bodies and destroyed the email records before it got this far. This blatant strong-arming by Christie’s office owed more to Chicago-style politics than the way it is done on the East Coast.
This will cost the governor in 2016. In a press conference today, he denied any knowledge of the shutdown and threw his staff under the bus, effectively calling them liars unworthy of his trust. Whether he can wipe away the taint of this episode depends on how badly he’s damaged his image as a strong leader, even if he’s held blameless for what happened in Ft. Lee.
Christie’s scandal has been the most riveting news, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had an uncomfortable press conference of his own yesterday. He spent the entire time defending the Obama Administration from charges made by Obama’s former defense secretary, Bob Gates.
In his book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Gates makes some shocking allegations about the most admired man of 2012. More important are his comments about two of the major frontrunners in the upcoming 2016 presidential election.
Gates claims that Biden has “not been right on a single foreign policy decision in four decades.” If voters believe it, this assertion would be detrimental to Biden’s candidacy in the 2016. Unfortunately for Biden, Gates sounds credible on this.
Gates also claims that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told President Obama that she only voted against the 2007 Afghan troop surge for political reasons, and that she would be facing him in the Iowa caucuses. This confirms something many people believe to be true, that Hillary Clinton is a political animal who will do what she needs to do to stay in power.
According to Gates, Obama never had his head in the game in Afghanistan. He believed it was not his war to fight, and that we should completely withdraw. The president and vice president were never willing to trust the military commanders and listened to them only because they felt it was expected. The lack of trust and honest communication between the president and the U.S. military have far-reaching and unsettling implications, if true.
In his press conference, Jay Carney said, “when you pick a team of rivals, you do so in part because you expect competing points of view and competing opinions. And that’s very much what the president expects in foreign policy and domestic policy and that’s what he gets. And he’s grateful for it.”
It is interesting that scandals concerning three front runners in the race to the White House should all break on the same day. It is an almost extraordinary coincidence that the leading candidate for 2016 from each party was hit with a scandal at the exact same time. It speaks volumes of the political climate in Washington and America that the political landscape can be shaken by scandal so quickly. Political conventional wisdom can be upended in a day.
Strategists on both sides should know better. The first candidate out of the gate is usually attacked with the greatest ferocity and savagery that the media can muster. And while neither of these scandals came from a direct attack by the opposing party, the spotlight on Christie, Clinton and Biden has left them vulnerable to the slightest misstep and unpleasant allegations by those who know them. Christie the bully, Clinton the political shark, and Biden the crazy uncle in the attic are all images that were fed by this week’s revelations.
In the chess game that is a national election, it is not wise to be too bold and too strong up front. Remember Herman Cain, the first forerunner in 2012 GOP race. He scared his opponents, and so he needed to be taken out. If history repeats itself, Christie will be the first to be removed from this race on the Republican side.
Christie will be savaged for not knowing about lane closures on the George Washington bridge by a press that believes that President Obama was justifiably unaware that the IRS was targeting conservative groups, that Fast and Furious guns were walking to Mexico, that you could not keep your doctor, or that Benghazi was carried out by al-Qaeda allies.
The bar for a scandal in the Obama Administration is set much higher than it is for Chris Christie. The major networks and MSNBC will spend much more time covering Christie than they have any of Obama’s scandals.
To compare the Christie scandal to the various Obama scandals is ludicrous and wrong. Had Christie closed those lanes himself, it would still fall short of the ethical and moral nastiness of employing the IRS as a political weapon, or the dangerously cavalier treatment Obama displays to his military commanders, or the poor judgment in choosing for vice president someone as bizarrely erratic as Joe Biden.
The tall grass gets mowed over first. Don’t be a political frontrunner so far out of a national election. You will only be the first political casualty in the opening skirmishes of the election wars. Scandal sticks more on you, and it is difficult to gain political momentum and donations if your name has a major ongoing scandal attached to it.
Gates’s book will rock Washington for a short while in what we might call “Gatesgate.” The book will do little to hurt Obama, but it will be interesting to see whether he moves to limit the damage to either Clinton or Biden. It will be interesting to see over the next few months who Obama lets joing him in the limelight. Will that person to be the next target of scandal, and will the one left out of the limelight be the one to blow them wide open?
Christie, Clinton and Biden can all survive this. The questions raised will dog them in party primaries and in a national election. They all have to do some damage control, though it will be easier for Clinton and Biden. It will be up to the president to show that they are all one big happy family.
This is all a game. The Electoral Olympics may have started a little early this time around, but this week is a taste of some amazing events to come. Anyone who’s viable after going through the primary ringer will have to be tough, and savvy, and relatively clear of scandal.
That leaves just about no one.
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