Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

4 reasons Christie keeps moving forward

By Julian Zelizer, CNN Contributor
updated 7:14 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
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
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT