NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, February 10, 2016, 7:52 PM
Chris Christie might be scratching his head wondering where things went wrong. But it’s Bridgegate — back in 2013 — that ended his 2016 run for the GOP nomination.
History will show — not that it will care very much eventually — that Chris Christie’s campaign to be the Republican nominee for President in 2016 ended after he ran sixth in New Hampshire, the place where he was going to make his stand the way another tough-guy former prosecutor from this part of the country, Rudy Giuliani, was going to make his stand in Florida eight years ago.
But the truth of what happened to Christie, whether Donald Trump got into this race or not, is that he never had a chance, that whatever lane he thought he had to the nomination closed in the late summer of 2013. That was when people working in his administration who thought they were the tough guys closed some entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge for sport, and out of spite.
Christie says he had nothing to do with it. Nobody has yet proved he did. It still happened on his watch, and whether it was fair at the time or not, there were enough people in his state and around the country who thought the whole thing sounded like something he’d do.
And he was done in that moment, whether he knew it or not.
“I’m not saying he’s above it,” a longtime friend of Christie’s said Wednesday. “But he’s innocent. And it was a traffic scandal. It isn’t confusing email servers.”
Donald Trump didn’t knock Christie out of the race. Christie never had a chance from the start.
Then the guy added, “His other problem was timing. Like an athlete, he peaked too soon. When people wanted him to run four years ago, he chose to wait.”
Christie was the hot guy in Republican politics four years ago, a Jersey guy with the reputation of getting things done in a Democratic state. But he decided he wasn’t ready to run for President, and didn’t. This was before he came up as big as he did after Hurricane Sandy. Christie was overpraised for that, of course, for doing his job, the way Giuliani was overpraised after Sept. 11.
In the aftermath of Sandy, of course, Christie hugged President Obama when he came to Jersey to survey the damage done to the state and its people by that terrible storm. Some in his party would blame him for Mitt Romney’s loss to Obama in November, as if Romney hadn’t done it to himself by being as stiff a candidate as Hillary Clinton.
Christie still didn’t believe his moment had come and gone. Only then came the day when Bridget Anne Kelly, then his deputy chief of staff, sent the following email to David Wildstein, whom Christie had appointed to the board of commissioners of the Port Authority:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (2nd L) with his Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly (R) in 2013. It was Kelly and other Christie staffers who doomed his White House run.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Here was Wildstein’s response: “Got it.”
It turned out Kelly and other Christie lieutenants were mad at Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, because he hadn’t gotten behind Christie’s campaign for reelection. What became known as Bridgegate was born, conceived by political small-timers who thought they were as big, in all ways, as the governor.
But the one who got it that day, whether you believe he’s innocent or not, was Chris Christie. His underbosses engaged in an act of cheap political retribution that ended up taking out their own boss. Now all he has to show for all the time he spent away from his state and all the money he spent on his campaign is that he may have taken out Marco Rubio in a debate last Saturday the way Kelly and Wildstein and Bill Baroni and Bill Stepien took out Christie.
President Obama greets Christie during a visit to New Jersey to see the damage from Hurricane Sandy.
He may not have been the Republican front-runner before Trump got into the race. But you can make a case that without Bridgegate, he sure would have looked like a lot more of a front-runner than Jeb Bush did before Trump started talking about what a loser Jeb was, and making “low energy” sound like a worse insult than Trump echoing a woman in a New Hampshire crowd the other night and calling Ted Cruz a “pussy.”
Trump probably would have taken out Christie if he had to, the way he took out Bush, and will take out Ted Cruz. But you have to believe Christie would have put up more fight, at least in the early rounds, than Bush did.
Now instead of winning in New Hampshire he goes home to the mess he left behind in New Jersey, and makes you wonder if the election he won in 2013, and the one that touched off Bridgegate, will be the last he ever wins.
Chris Christie kept talking big and tough to the end, about how he was going to kick Obama out of the White House, like that would somehow have been his doing; how he was going to keep Hillary Clinton from getting back into the place without being on a tour. None of it mattered in the end. Christie’s the one who never got out of all that traffic in Fort Lee.