When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie held a nearly two-hour long press conference on Thursday in response to the damning emails indicating some of his staffers were involved in closing the lanes of the George Washington Bridge to punish a local Democratic mayor, there was an expectation America would hear about the many people who were inconvenienced.
Instead – in Christie’s approximately 15-minute opening remarks alone – viewers heard the governor say “I” 114 times and “me” or “my” 42 times. At the end of the day, the person who seemed hurt the most was Christie himself.
Among Christie’s “woe is me” declarations were:
-“Lying to me is not an exhibition of loyalty”
-“It’s a sad day for me.”
-“I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
-“I am embarrassed and humiliated.”
Christie, a Republican establishment favorite to run for president in 2016, made sure to hammer home one point in particular: I am definitely not to blame. Did I mention, I’m not to blame?
The governor tried to strike a balance between being a leader and a victim. He repeatedly said he was “heartbroken” and that he was duped and lied to by his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, whom he fired on Thursday morning. During much of the presser Christie focused on how he felt personally – “humiliated,” “embarrassed” – detailing how his trust has been “betrayed.” He called the staff involved in the plot “stupid” and “deceitful.”
“I terminated [Kelly’s] employment because she lied to me,” Christie said. “There’s no justification for that behavior. There’s no justification for ever lying to a governor or a person in authority in this government.”
It certainly was a change in the tone Christie used when he shrugged off the accusations a month ago, saying the closures were a result of a traffic study and “not that big a deal.” He even joked about his role, saying, “I worked the cones, actually.”
Christie – to his credit—apologized during the press conference for the conduct of his team, saying he was ultimately responsible for what happened under his watch. But very little of what Christie said had to do with the many, many people who were affected by the unannounced closures, which paralyzed much of Fort Lee and the surrounding communities during the week of Sept. 9.
There was no mention of the reports saying the traffic jams, caused by the lane closures, resulted in slower times for emergency vehicles. There was no mention that it may have hindered the search for a missing child.
The governor also played the “I had no idea” card on a number of issues, including not knowing about the emails between his staff, claiming he couldn’t pick Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich out of a lineup, and that now he’s not sure if the traffic study even exists.
It’s a theme that the Democratic National Committee was quick to jump on. “Chris Christie is not the victim. The people of New Jersey who trusted him are,” DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee said in a statement following the press conference. “… There’s one thing that was crystal clear today – Chris Christie needs to focus less on his ego and more on the people of NJ.”
When asked at the press conference if he ever entertained the possibility of resigning, Christie exclaimed: “God no…That’s a crazy question,” adding “I’m telling you I had nothing to do with this.”
Regardless of the current fallout, there’s no guarantee the scandal won’t haunt Christie for weeks or months – let alone years.
Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates have remained mum or refused to comment on what’s now being dubbed “bridgegate,” including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
House Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t go into detail but when asked by reporters if Christie remains a top 2016 contender, saying, “I think so.”