Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is Chris Christie presidential?

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
January 15, 2014 -- Updated 1944 GMT (0344 HKT)
When embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said "mistakes were clearly made" in addressing suggestions top aides orchestrated a politically motivated traffic fiasco last year he echoed the words of problem-plagued politicos of scandals past. The phrase, "Mistakes were made" creates the veneer of appearing contrite while carefully avoiding full blame. When embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said "mistakes were clearly made" in addressing suggestions top aides orchestrated a politically motivated traffic fiasco last year he echoed the words of problem-plagued politicos of scandals past. The phrase, "Mistakes were made" creates the veneer of appearing contrite while carefully avoiding full blame.
HIDE CAPTION
'Mistakes were made'
'Mistakes were made'
'Mistakes were made'
'Mistakes were made'
'Mistakes were made'
'Mistakes were made'
'Mistakes were made'
'Mistakes were made'
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: On paper, Christie seemed a strong candidate for 2016
  • She says George Washington Bridge scandal raises questions about his temperament
  • Every major politician has enemies, but issue is how you deal with them, she says
  • Borger: If Christie is perceived as vindictive, that weakens his claim to presidential caliber

(CNN) -- It's a cliche of American presidential politics -- the president we elect is always a reaction to what came before. As in: Nixonian shenanigans eventually gave rise to Jimmy Carter's self-righteousness. Clintonesque parsing gave way to George W. Bush's plain speaking. Bush's plain speaking begat Barack Obama's lofty speechifying.

Oversimplified? Yes. But true nonetheless.

And so we head into 2016 (yes, already) and Chris Christie's ready-made narrative: If Obama is lofty, Christie is down to earth. If Obama wasn't tough enough, he's hard-hitting. If Obama couldn't run his complex health care rollout, he's a strong manager. If Obama was partisan, he's worked across party lines.

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

In sum: Christie can lead in the precise ways that Obama disappointed.

Until a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. Then came another stark contrast: the vindictive -- and more important, petty -- Christie culture as opposed to the stature the presidency demands.

So far, the New Jersey melodrama looks like the worst side of the Christie ethos. The apparent reprisals against Democratic mayors. The vanity of featuring the Christie family in taxpayer-funded commercials. The environment in which retribution reigned when Christie did not get what he wanted. The arrogance of believing he was deserving of it all, and to hell with the rest of 'em.

Chris Christie under federal investigation
Springsteen & Fallon mock bridge scandal
Christie's State of the State address

The grand storyline behind all of this, of course, is the design on the presidency: Christie wanted to be re-elected by such an overwhelming margin that it would launch his national aspirations into the stratosphere. The plan was to get bipartisan support to show his viability as a national candidate. All who stood in the way were official enemies.

This is not to say that presidents don't have enemies. Of course they do. You don't get elected to any office in this country, much less president of the United States, without accumulating political enemies. But the real question is WHY you consider someone an enemy, and then, how you deal with it.

As president, LBJ had always had a bunch, but the enmity -- and payback -- generally came over issues, not self-aggrandizement. It's Politics 101: If you want to pass a civil rights bill and you don't get a "yes" vote from an opponent who wants a bridge in his state, no bridge.

That's very different from saying if you don't endorse my candidacy I will shut down your bridge. That's not politics; it's puny payback. And, worse, the impact is felt not only by the opponent, but by his -- and your -- constituents. A bridge way too far.

Then consider Bill Clinton, who had plenty of enemies. A former senior Clinton adviser reminds me that "it became a joke that the best thing to be was Clinton's enemy. If 99 people in a room were for him, and one was against him, he would spend all his time trying to persuade that one guy he was wrong. And he was always willing to argue the substance. Always. In fact, he enjoyed it."

The real question is WHY you consider someone an enemy, and then, how you deal with it.
Gloria Borger

This is not to turn Clinton and LBJ into saintly role models and Christie into the devil. But it is to say that Christie's staff shenanigans -- which he says he did not know about -- have raised enormous questions about his temperament and how he would run a White House. In fact, a Monmouth University poll released this week shows that only 44% of New Jersey voters believe that their governor has the right temperament for the Oval Office.

The characterization of Christie and Obama as opposite numbers is accurate in many ways. There's this: When then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent, endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain for the presidency in 2008 -- and became his outspoken travel buddy -- there were calls for retribution after Obama won.

So what did Obama do? He kept Lieberman on as chairman of an important committee. It kept an enemy close, not a bad strategy.

Obama is cool and Christie is all drama. And now a line of argument against him as petty and vindictive has been opened up that will become the default narrative. But Christie will be defined as much by how he deals with this episode as the episode itself.

No one expects -- or really wants -- Chris Christie to morph into a false version of himself.

But how about some elevation -- and some perspective -- that flies way above the traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge?

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT