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Conservatives pile on Christie over 'bridgegate'

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts during a news conference in Trenton, Jan. 9, 2014.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts during a news conference in Trenton, Jan. 9, 2014.

Democrats are gleeful over Chris Christie's recent troubles. But there's another group delighting in the New Jersey governor's woes: conservatives.

Indeed, the far right is using the bridge scandal as a chance to beat up on Christie, who they've always seen as a RINO – Republican In Name Only.

Sure, some GOPers are coming to Christie’s defense. And for his part, Christie swears up and down he had nothing to do with the closure by some top aides of the access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. The closures, which caused traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., allegedly were deisgned to punish the city's Democratic mayor.

In damage control mode, Christie has fired a top aide at the center of the controversy, apologized to voters and Fort Lee's mayor, and says he will take action against other staffers if it’s warranted. Christie had previously said his staff had nothing to do with the traffic jams, before emails surfaced showing otherwise.

As a result, many conservatives are seizing the opportunity to skewer him.

The Garden State governor has never been a favorite of his party's right wing. There's still anger over Christie’s notorious embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy, shortly before the 2012 presidential election. And many in the conservative base think Christie is too moderate on issues like gun control, climate change, and gay marriage. To them, he represents the cautious establishment—not the sort of true conservative the grassroots desires.

Glenn Beck has labelled the scandal “Fat & Furious,” declaring Thursday that “conservatives need to run from Chris Christie.” Beck said the only “good news” to come from the fallout is that “this just ended his political career for president.”

Red State’s Erick Erickson compared Christie’s situation to the one faced last year by President Obama, who came under fire for saying he did not know some in the IRS were targeting conservative groups. “Obama set the tone for his staff and IRS. Christie did the same in New Jersey," Erickson tweeted.

The Drudge Report filled its page with unfriendly Christie headlines . And Matthew Boyle of Breitbart tweeted, “Chris Christie is NOT a conservative. Don’t delude yourself into thinking he is.”

Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots left open the possibility that the whole truth hasn’t come out yet. “Abuse of power by government officials is wrong, whether it’s closing lanes in Fort Lee, using the IRS to target political opponents, or waiving the law regarding Obamacare,” she said in a statement. “Gov. Christie held some subordinates accountable. Time will tell whether this is enough.”

And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters: “You know, being candid and forthright and speaking truth to power is one narrative, but the other narrative is, you know, he’s a transactional politician, he rewards his friends and punishes his enemies.”

Most potential 2016 GOPers are staying quiet. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida  both refused to weigh in. “I don’t have any comment on this story, I just don’t,” Rubio told NBC News. Cruz also said he didn’t have time to talk.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky seemed to take a jab at Christie, however. When asked about the allegations, Paul told reporters that when he’s stuck in traffic jams, “I know how angry I am….I’m always wondering who did this to me.”

Paul and Christie have a rocky relationship. Paul criticized Christie for using federal funds for television ads in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and they have clashed on foreign policy. 

Some Republicans are siding with Christie.

“He did the right thing in taking responsibility in a tough situation," said South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. "That’s the kind of leadership that earned him the huge level of trust he has in New Jersey.”

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told MSNBC that Christie “acted like a chief executive,” gave “very definitive answers,” and “handled it about as well as he could handle it.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement to "Governor Christie did the right thing and demonstrated what leaders do when actions of the team are unacceptable and wrong. I wish President Obama would be as transparent and open as Governor Christie."

And much of the right-wing media has been eager to try to deflect the story away from Christie.

But the long-term political impact, especially when it comes to 2016, is yet to be seen.