Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is Chris Christie presidential?

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 2:44 PM EST, Wed January 15, 2014
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
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
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.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
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.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT