As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal continues to unfold, his allies and defenders have a serious challenge. Under the most generous of scenarios, the governor was clueless about his own team’s corruption, kept in the dark while his top aides abused their power in his name, deliberately crippling a community over petty politics.
Many Republicans and Christie admirers aren’t sure how best to respond, but they’ve taken a long look at the available evidence, and have decided to ask the question that matters most to them: “Isn’t President Obama awful?”
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) … praised Christie for taking responsibility, than pivoted to a criticism of Obama. “This was very, very refreshing,” Giuliani said of Christie’s press conference Thursday. “We have had a couple of years in Washington with a lot of situations with IRS thing, Benghazi. We have a president who runs away from press conferences like this. Never takes accountability. Never fires anybody. Here is a guy who acted like a chief executive.”
It’s tempting to just laugh this off as a silly argument from a knee-jerk partisan, but Giuliani isn’t the only one seriously pushing this nonsense. As Matt Gertz explained:
The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote in a January 9 piece that Christie’s “contrition contrasts so sharply with President Obama’s handling of the tax agency’s abuse of political opponents and his reluctance to fire anyone other than a military general for anything.” They added, “We raise this mostly because our media friends have been complicit in dismissing the IRS abuses, and for that matter every other legal abuse during the Obama years.”
The talking point has also been regularly featured on Fox News, raised by hosts or commentators on America’s Newsroom, Fox & Friends, Hannity, The O’Reilly Factor, The Five, and Happening Now, as the network turns from ignoring the story to using it as a weapon to attack the Obama administration.
It’s hard to know where to start with such a ridiculous response to a controversy, but consider a few pertinent details.
It took about four months for Christie to publicly acknowledge that his administration was responsible for serious wrongdoing in the bridge fiasco. In contrast, after the IRS story broke on the afternoon of Friday, May 10, 2013, President Obama addressed the controversy in a press conference on May 13, then again in remarks on May 15 in which he announced the ouster of the IRS commissioner, and then again in another press conference on May 16. When Giuliani says, “We have a president who runs away from press conferences,” he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.
Second, the bridge scandal directly implicates the governor’s office. In contrast, no one in the White House has been accused of wrongdoing in the various manufactured controversies. It’s not exactly apples-to-apples.
Finally – and this is the important one – the Christie controversial is real. There’s actual wrongdoing that’s been extensively documented. Even Christie himself, after mocking the story for months, has finally acknowledged officials within his administration engaged in serious misconduct.
In contrast, the IRS story has been repeatedly discredited, which is why even Republicans gave up on it months ago – there just wasn’t any evidence of wrongdoing. Likewise, right-wing conspiracy theories involving Benghazi completely fell apart under scrutiny. The attack that left four Americans dead was a tragedy but not a political scandal, and multiple independent investigations have made this fact abundantly clear to anyone who takes reality seriously.
In other words, Republicans and other Christie admirers, instead of dealing with the bridge story on the merits, are comparing the responses to a legitimate controversy and discredited faux-controversies. In their eagerness to defend the governor, they’re criticizing the president for reasons that simply don’t make sense.