A lot of people have been asking for our take on Governor Chris Christie’s news conference on the George Washington Bridge mess. OK, it was only one person — but we assume he was speaking for many of you.
How did Christie do? The short answer is that it is too soon to tell. If everything he said about not knowing about a plan to screw up traffic in Fort Lee, NJ turns out to be true — and no evidence or plausible claims to the otherwise arise — he can survive the ordeal. If anything surfaces that proves that he was less than honest, unless he has Bill Clinton-like survival skills, his political career is likely toast.
While it is too soon to pass judgment on the long-term effect of the news conference there are some short-term effects that can be discussed.
He gets major credit for showing up and taking questions for nearly two hours. When you are under fire the last thing you want to convey is that you are running from the media. He certainly did not give that impression. The tactic of having a marathon press briefing when under fire is a tried and tested on. Some of the most prominent examples are former Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s 1984 exhaustive defense of her husband’s finances, and former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s “Pretty in Pink” press conference ten years later where she tried to deal with a ton of questions involving the Whitewater investments.
Also on the plus side was acting swiftly to fire his former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly. There was no need to dither over what she did. It was clearly a firing offense.
And he did a good job by emphasizing how embarrassed and humiliated he was by the incident and how he understood that he bears responsibility for it. But we think he fell short by spending too much time talking about how badly he felt and opposed to talking about his concern for others. It was somewhat reminiscent of Paula Deen’s apology tour last summer where she overachieved in talking about how much the allegations hurt her and under achieved discussing how her comments and actions may have hurt others.
Christie’s biggest mistake was to utter the words “I am not a bully.” You would think a seasoned politician would know cardinal rule #1: “Never repeat a negative.” I am not a bully sounds eerily reminiscent of “I am not a crook” — and we all know how that turned out.
Another error was in his failing to say periodically and loudly “As far as I know now….” Guys like Governor Christie are always certain — even when they shouldn’t be. He would have been wise to build in some wiggle room so that if, down the road, it turns out that some of his facts were wrong — it doesn’t automatically look like he was lying.
There were also mistakes made in the way the session was staged. Most notably was putting Christie behind a lectern that was the seize of two GW Bridge toll booths. It made him appear as if he needed the massive chunk of furniture to hide behind. We are tempted to describe the giant lectern as a “bully pulpit” — but that wouldn’t be fair. If he needed a place to rest his notes he would have been better advised to stand behind a simple music stand and try to convey openness.
It was a good move for the Governor to insist after the session with the media on going to Fort Lee to deliver a personal apology to the mayor. Such a gesture would be required a some point — so why not do it immediately and avoid dragging out the apology tour?
Christie has a steep uphill grade to climb to get over the GW Bridge affair. He made a promising start but the proof will be in what comes out in the days ahead and how much of a toll it takes on his political career.
A transcript of the Governor’s news conference is at this link.
(Note: Our new web hosting service ate a post on this subject that we put up last night. We are trying to recreate the post from memory — but it will no doubt be somewhat different from the one that went off into the ozone)