Politically, this new report “clearing” Chris Christie is anticlimactic and largely irrelevant. I put the irony quotes around clearing because, well, what did you expect a report commissioned by Christie and conducted by a long-time aide to alpha dog Christie defender Rudy Giuliani (I refer to Randy Mastro) to conclude? That Christie should be indicted?
So that’s what makes it largely irrelevant. The feds are investigating, and theirs is the investigation that matters. The key question with respect to Christie will be whether the U.S. Attorney’s office turns up anything that corroborates the David Wildstein claim in this report that he told the governor about the “traffic study” (the report’s exact phrase) at the GWB in real time. Christie has claimed before that he didn’t even know that.
Today’s report says Christie “recalls no such exchange” and then rather comically adds that it “would not have registered with the Governor in any event because he knew nothing about this decision in advance and would not have considered another traffic issue at one of the bridges or tunnels to be memorable.” The credibility of that contention would depend on exactly what Wildstein told Christie and how he phrased it.
And the report is anticlimactic in political terms because the damage has been done. Nobody really believes that Christie didn’t know anything, not even most Republicans. That image he had before all this came to light is gone. You notice nobody calls him “GOP frontunner” anymore. Whereas he used to tie Hillary Clinton in polls or even lead her in some important swing states, he now trails her, usually by double-digit margins. In a recent Fox poll, Clinton bested Christie by 11 points, Jeb Bush by 13 and Ted Cruz by 16. He’s closer than that in some polls, but it’s a pretty representative margin.
Now. The central political question is this: Can everything change back if the feds exonerate him? To an extent, but I think only to an extent—because if he is exonerated, it will happen only because no one found a smoking gun. So you’ll still have, in others words, other officials like Wildstein saying Christie knew something, and Christie saying he didn’t know, so it will just be an unresolved he said/he said situation. In all likelihood, the clouds will linger. And as long as clouds linger, the big GOP establishment money doesn’t flow like it might have.
All this puts the Dawn Zimmer matter to the side, but of course the Hoboken mayor’s allegations about the Christie team pressing her to play favorites on a city contract are more serious. The Mastro report cleared Christie of any wrongdoing on this one, too, naturally. But Zimmer didn’t talk to Mastro’s team. She’s saving it all for the feds.
It’s not impossible for Christie to wriggle out of all this, and Democrats shouldn’t think it is. Let’s say Sheldon Adelson, after his meetings in the coming weeks with the four GOP wannabes to whom he’s granted an audience, gives Christie the nod. That would send a ripple through GOP money circles. And the rest of the field is pretty slim pickings, Jeb included. The Republicans may return to him by process of elimination. It says something about the GOP field that the only one among them caught up in a really tawdry scandal is still probably their best general election candidate.