- - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

For the past couple of years, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has led a fairly charmed life in politics. Yet he is currently embroiled in a huge scandal that threatens both his personal popularity and presidential ambitions.

Last week, Americans began to hear more about the traffic-jam fiasco known as “Bridgegate.” It’s alleged that the September 2013 closure of two of the three lanes on the George Washington Bridge between Fort Lee, N.J., and New York City was politically motivated. Various reports have suggested it may have been an act of retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who chose not to endorse Mr. Christie during last year’s re-election campaign.

During Mr. Christie’s news conference that lasted nearly two hours, he claimed to be completely in the dark about Bridgegate. “I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution,” he said, and “I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.” Mr. Christie claims he was “blindsided” by staff emails revealing possible political retribution against Mr. Sokolich. The embattled governor has since fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly (calling her “stupid” and “deceitful”), and asked longtime campaign manager Bill Stepien to step down as a Republican Governors Association consultant.

It will be some time before we know what exactly transpired with Bridgegate. If Mr. Christie was misled by his staff, then he handled this situation in a wise manner.

For now, the bigger debate in Washington is whether Mr. Christie’s rumored 2016 GOP presidential run will be permanently stuck in reverse on the New Jersey Turnpike.

In my opinion, it would be in the Republicans’ best interests to pass on Mr. Christie.

Wait a second. A Quinnipiac poll last November showed Mr. Christie leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 43 percent to 42 percent in a potential 2016 presidential election faceoff. If the New Jersey governor is in a dead heat with Mrs. Clinton, perceived to be the strongest potential Democratic presidential candidate, isn’t that a sign for Republicans to get behind him?

Absolutely not. Mr. Christie’s personal appeal has developed for all the wrong reasons.

To be sure, Mr. Christie was elected as a conservative in the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial election. He believed in and supported balanced budgets, refused to increase income- and corporate-tax rates, increased the standards for tenure in education, and even brought in more charter schools.

Alas, the New Jersey governor is anything but a political conservative these days.

His positions have dramatically transformed since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In particular, the public depiction of Mr. Christie praising President Obama turned off many Republicans. It was one thing to respectfully thank the president for helping out with the disaster-relief efforts, but quite another to act like Mr. Obama was his long-lost brother-in-arms.

Since that time, I’d argue Mr. Christie has positioned himself as a political maverick (a la Sen. John McCain of Arizona). He appears to be more interested in acquiring Democratic and independent votes than supporting modern conservative values and principles.

Certainly, New Jersey has been a Democratic stronghold in presidential elections since 1988. Many former GOP governors of this state could be classified as liberal Republicans, including Christine Todd Whitman, so it’s not illogical for Mr. Christie to occasionally balance out his positions. If you want to be elected president, you need broad-based support from across the country.

Let’s not examine this issue through a microscope lens, however.

There are reasonable ways for a conservative politician to sell himself as a right-leaning candidate who can work with and help Americans from different walks of life. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have all recently proved this.

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