Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

4 reasons Christie keeps moving forward

By Julian Zelizer, CNN Contributor
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1114 GMT (1914 HKT)
HIDE CAPTION
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
Quotes from Christie apology
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Julian Zelizer observes how Gov. Chris Christie has remained politically viable
  • The New Jersey governor appears so far to have weathered "Bridgegate"
  • Republicans need Christie as a candidate and want to win, he says

Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and "Governing America." This January, Penguin Press will publish his new book, "The Fierce Urgency of Now." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- After months of being beat up by the media about his "Bridgegate" scandal in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie is still standing. And there is even some evidence that he might finally be regaining ground.

A new poll from Quinnipiac shows that the governor has narrowed the lead that Hillary Clinton, another possible presidential candidate, has over him in Iowa. His appearance on "The Tonight Show" and at a charity softball game in Yankee Stadium generated some media buzz about the more likeable parts of his personality.

Although his political reputation is a long way from repaired, the idea that the governor might still run in 2016 is back on the table.

How can this be?

A number of factors have helped him absorb the continued blows that he has received from the constant news coverage and ongoing investigations into the events that transpired in the Garden State. The dynamics of the scandal have followed a few principles about surviving scandal politics that have worked in his favor.

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

1. Avoid the smoking gun: This is the biggest one.

Until investigators have clear-cut evidence that a politician is responsible for the scandal at hand, there is always room for a person to maneuver. In certain cases, American voters are willing to give the benefit of doubt to the person accused -- especially in a heated partisan environment where investigations and accusations often turn out to be unfounded -- until there is evidence in hand that the politician is guilty beyond any doubt.

Whether the evidence is a recording of White House conversations (Watergate) or pictures on Twitter (Weinergate), it's not usually over before this information actually emerges.

The absence of a smoking gun of illegal activity has been very important in this case since, to many Americans, so much of the story -- leaning on politicians, favoring friends and intimidating enemies, making politics a top concern among the staff -- all seem like politics as usual in New Jersey.

2. Time your scandal well: As with everything else in politics, timing is everything when it comes to scandal.

It matters very much when a story breaks. With Christie, the timing was good and bad. The revelations about the bridge began at a real high point for the governor when the media was virtually nominating him to be the Republican nominee on their own. So the impact of negative information was dramatic.

But the story also broke a long time before any presidential primaries started. There is a huge amount of time still remaining until the political season really begins. This means that Christie has had some time for the noise to die down and the worst of the coverage, thus far, has taken place when nationally many people are not paying attention.

The virtues of the scandal happening early are amplified in a rapid-fire media age where reporters turn their attention to the next big story quickly and the readers and viewers are quick to move on.

Hillary vs. Christie, Walker or Perry?
Chris Christie's 'pro-life' message
Christie's N.H. travel tea leaves

3. Keep governing: Christie has followed the Bill Clinton playbook.

When faced with bad press and damaging allegations, keep doing the job that you were elected to do. During the past months, Christie has continued to focus on his work in New Jersey. He has been steadfast in his effort to convey the image of a politician most concerned about the challenges facing the electorate rather than the challenges he faces as a result of the scandal. He has also used his fundraising and appearances with the Republican Governors Association to continue to remind voters and member of the party of the assets that he can bring to the table as a party leader.

By doing so, he continues to give the public opportunity to evaluate him a leader in action, rather than just the subject of investigation, and to charge that the accusers are more concerned in scandal than solving problems.

4. Remind your party that they need you: One of Christie's greatest virtues is his party. Even with all the problems that President Barack Obama has faced, the GOP remains greatly damaged. The party has suffered in the polls as a result the way in which Republicans have governed in Congress, as well as continued disapproval of President George W. Bush.

Many of the possible candidates, such as Rand Paul or Marco Rubio, are untested or have serious potential weaknesses, such as Paul's noninterventionism at a moment that things are heating up overseas. Christie receives considerable protection just from the fact that Republicans don't have so many alternatives. Desperate to regain the White House, Republicans have been willing to give him some slack as the story unfolds.

To be sure, it is far from clear whether Christie will ever regain the strength he once had. The recent news about a second scandal involving alleged securities laws violations connected to a major road repair might rekindle public interest in his wrongdoing and potentially produce the smoking gun that has not yet emerged.

But at this point, Christie is still showing some signs of life and remains a player on the political field. He still has the potential to join the list of politicians who have stared scandal in the face and survived politically.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT