Earlier this morning, a judge in New Jersey's Bergen County ruled that there exists sufficient probable cause to investigate allegations of official misconduct by Gov. Chris Christie related to the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, also known as Bridgegate. Now the Bergen County prosecutor will determine whether to pursue an indictment against the governor.
Christie has maintained from the start that he knew nothing about a scheme devised by three of his top aides to create crippling traffic jams on the bridge as political punishment for the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. And for a long time it seemed that the governor might escape the Bridgegate investigation without facing official charges.
Things changed last month when federal prosecutors made their first public statements alleging that Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening. A couple of weeks ago, one of the Bridgegate plotters testified that Christie was kept apprised of the traffic problems and knew that they were politically motivated. Now it looks like the circle is closing in on the embattled leader of the Garden State.
The potential indictment of a sitting governor for his alleged involvement in a cartoonishly villainous scheme to inflict political punishment on a state official by disrupting the lives of ordinary citizens is remarkable enough. But this is Chris Christie we’re talking about. He was once viewed by pretty much everyone as the future of the Republican Party, and an indictment would be the final piece of one of the most spectacular political collapses in recent memory.
In 2014, there was near-unanimous agreement among Republican elites that Christie would be a force in the 2016 GOP primaries. He was a popular blue-state governor who knew how to manipulate the press and promote his “Jersey tough guy” brand. His bullying swagger, unmasked contempt for unions and willingness to sacrifice his state’s fiscal health through the relentless pursuit of tax cuts endeared him to the Republican establishment.
Even after the Bridgegate scandal broke and severely damaged his credibility in New Jersey, the Christie faithful weren’t ready to write him off. “Christie today radiates serenity,” wrote Washington Post columnist George Will in October 2014. “His critics, including many Hillary Clinton enthusiasts, hoped the past 12 months would be for him a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. He has, however, thrived.”
When the primaries started up and Christie launched his campaign, he conspicuously failed to gain any electoral traction anywhere. But there was still a potent, if inexplicable urge to treat Christie as a nominee in waiting whose appeals and charms would soon work their magic on the Republican electorate.
To pundits and reporters, Christie was always on the verge of a comeback, even as his poll numbers grew steadily worse. No one wanted to believe that the affable, jocular Christie who seemed to live on the set of MSNBC's “Morning Joe” was a fraud or that the authoritarian cruelty of the Bridgegate fiasco was a better reflection of who he really was.
The fever finally broke after Christie knifed Sen. Marco Rubio, another favorite of the party establishment, in a New Hampshire presidential debate and then endorsed Donald Trump after ending his own presidential bid. He was isolated, his political future was destroyed and an unholy alliance with Trump offered Christie's only chance at any sort of continued relevance.
So the famously tough Christie prostrated himself before Trump's throne and absorbed countless slights and indignities just for the opportunity to be in proximity to power. That’s when everyone finally saw the unprincipled rat who masked his cowardice and corruptibility with bluster and macho posturing.
The fact that Christie now faces possible indictment for the wanton malice with which he ran his administration is as strong an endorsement of karmic justice as one could ask for. As we all gawk and marvel at this incredible reversal of political fortune, it’s very much worth asking why so many people were taken in by this thug in the first place.