NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Not only are many conservatives not concerned about the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal but also some attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference say it could actually improve New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s standing.
Christie spoke at CPAC Thursday, one year after being snubbed and denied an invite in the wake of his very public embrace of President Barack Obama ahead of the 2012 presidential election. His speech earned a mostly positive reception from attendees — not as fervent as the reaction for the crowd-appeasing Sen. Ted Cruz or even Donald Trump, but enough to qualify as a standing ovation.
Perhaps more importantly, CPAC attendees were eager to defend Christie from the story that has dominated national headlines for much of the past two months — the revelation some of the governor’s top aides were involved in a decision to close access lanes onto the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., last September. The closures caused days of gridlock in Fort Lee and some Democrats have said it was an act of political retribution against the mayor there, Mark Sokolich, who declined to endorse Christie for re-election.
“I just have to laugh at that whole ‘scandal,'” said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation. “We have real scandals going on. People were killed in Benghazi,” he added, referring to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Libya.
The conservatives we spoke to largely agreed it would have been bad news if Christie was involved in ordering the closures for political reasons. Their responses on that front included the words “stupid,” “dumb,” and “idiotic.” However, several CPAC attendees also noted the intense media coverage of the scandal, which has largely receded in recent weeks, could actually help the governor as battling the “liberal mainstream media” could help him appeal to the conservative base.
One CPAC attendee who didn’t want to be named said he understood the media interest in the story, especially in a slow news period. However, he said he saw a double standard from the media’s coverage.
“Traffic in New York is constant,” the attendee said. “And it’s national news for two months? Four Americans were killed in Benghazi. How long was that a story?”
He added, “I’m not saying Christie doesn’t have his flaws. But I think he could expose the media’s bias probably better than any other candidate we have.”
Another conservative at the conference predicted coverage of the scandal would continue to decrease and would have disappeared by the time Christie would be ready to begin preparing for a presidential run. This could give the impression Christie had triumphed over the liberal media.
“I think it’s a lot of inside baseball, especially as far as internal New Jersey politics go,” Kevin Mooney, a writer at Liberty Alliance, told Business Insider. “Unless something tangible is found, it could work to Christie’s advantage. … We need someone who beat the news media.”
Outside of the conservative base, Christie’s image has clearly taken a hit from the scandal. A poll released last week showed just 31 per cent of Republicans want Christie to run in 2016, while 41 per cent do not want him to run. One CPAC attendee who spoke to Business Insider conceded the scandal could cause Christie to lose more moderate voters. That would be bad news for the governor since, as indicated by last year’s CPAC snub, he was hardly on solid footing with conservatives.
“He has a lot deeper problems with the base,” said Steve Deace, a conservative Iowa radio host. “But I understand the hesitation people could have about him — imagine if your dad was on that bridge, and had a heart attack? … What if your wife was in a crisis pregnancy, like mine was twice?”
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