"Chris Christie is NOT a conservative": How the right-wing media is responding to the Christie scandal

The New Jersey governor's unfolding scandal lays bare the fault lines within the GOP

Published January 9, 2014 3:55PM (EST)

For obvious reasons, you'd expect the left-leaning media to cover the unfolding Chris Christie/George Washington Bridge scandal at full throttle. And considering the mainstream political media's obsession with all things 2016, it's no surprise to find ABC, CNN, NBC and the like treating the Christie administration's first bona fide political screw-up with equally voracious attention. Christie is the GOP's nominal 2016 front-runner, after all, and he's long been a media favorite. This is par for the course.

What's truly interesting, though, is not the response from the left or the center, but rather from the right. Christie's a controversial figure among conservatives — many will never forgive him for speaking so highly of president Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — and the way various right-wing media outlets have performed since Wednesday's revelations can show us a lot about the fissures and fault lines in the conservative movement. More than anything, the Christie scandal has revealed the ongoing tension between the GOP's elite establishment and its activist base.

Let's start with the elites, who by and large adore Christie. Despite its pretensions to speak for the Republican rank-and-file, Fox News is fundamentally a construction of the GOP's ruling class. It's the televised extension of Roger Ailes'seriously warped mind, and for all Ailes' cunning and insight into the conservative id, the Fox News magnate is fundamentally a man of the establishment. He cut his teeth in Republican politics by working for that sniveling RINO, Richard Nixon, after all.

So what does Fox News have to say about Chris Christie, Fort Lee and the George Washington Bridge? Bupkis. Shep Smith — who is something of a wild card among the Fox News crew — spent a few minutes acknowledging that things weren't going well for Christie; but other than that, the "Fair and Balanced" network deemed Christie's travails unworthy of mention. Christie is Ailes' man, and Ailes is too much of a political operator to join the pack in tearing Christie down.

Same goes for that other organ of the Republican establishment, the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. As Steve Kornacki put it on Twitter, the WSJ opinion page is essentially "Christie's base." And while Christie's base isn't ignoring the scandal entirely, they're not giving it more than the bare minimum of coverage: one Op-Ed. I'd like to tell you what the Op-Ed says — its title, "Christie Credibility," sounds promising — but the folks over at the Journal decided to keep the piece behind the paywall. One never airs dirty laundry to those outside the family, I suppose.

National Review is another signature member of the GOP's upper crust. And while its coverage of the Christie affair has not been as conspicuously minimal as that of Fox and the Journal, the venerable conservative magazine's website has hardly given the story a thorough consideration. One blog post, from National Review's editor-in-chief, Rich Lowry, treats Christie's possible transgression as more or less a minor, frivolous event. "It would never occur to me to cut off someone's highway lanes," Lowry writes in a one-sentence post that's titled "Why I'll Never Make It in Politics." Another post is more serious-minded in its approach, but rather than grapple with the implications of what Christie's possible bullying might say about the man and his politics, the author opts instead to go meta and report on what advice GOP message meisters would offer the New Jersey governor.

Right-wing media more reflective of the GOP base, on the other hand, have been far more ambivalent than the establishment when it comes to defending Christie. Over at RedState, Erick Erickson has written two posts about Christie. After engaging in the ritual denunciation of the liberal media that's required of all conservatives, one post essentially blames Christie and his inner circle for squandering any goodwill they may have among other Republicans by acting like "divas." The conservative activist and pundit writes that he's heard many stories from GOPers and their staff about how difficult it is to work with Team Christie, and writes that while it's true that people "want a winner" and "an a**hole," they "want the person to be their a**hole, not an a**hole who tries to make everyone else his whipping boy."

Meanwhile, the Daily Caller, another tribune for the Republican base, has published an opinion piece by associate editor Christopher Bedford that makes Erickson's halfhearted defense look downright effusive. After cataloging some of Christie's transgressions, Bedford argues that the "myth" of Chris Christie has been "exposed," and that the supposedly straight-talking, selfless governor, who always puts New Jersey citizens first, has been revealed to be "a man who would gridlock an entire city of his own constituents for nearly a week because its mayor didn’t join the boatload of Democrats backing his sure victory." Bedford continues:

[W]hy should Republicans trust a candidate who has been openly antagonistic to them? His excuse has always been that he is simply standing up for the citizens of New Jersey, but with the emails revealing targeted revenge on thousands of New Jerseyans over a minor political scuffle, the curtain is pulled back, and the real Chris Christie — the Chris Christie loyal to no one, including the aide who gave the order — is laid bare.

Finally, there's the right-wing blog Hot Air and the Breitbart news empire. Hot Air's most influential blogger, Allahpundit, wrote a post about the Christie scandal, but he mostly focused on conservative pundit S.E. Cupp's argument, delivered on Jake Tapper's CNN show, that Christie could resign and still run for president. He's far from persuaded. " I don’t know what to tell you except that Tapper’s green room must include a mini-bar," he snarks.

Last but not least is Breitbart's Matthew Boyle, who is about as fine a representation of the conservative base as you're going to find. Boyle's response to the Christie news? To disown the New Jersey governor, clean and simple:


By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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