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Today was supposed to be the best of times for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- his inauguration for his second term, a celebration of his 22-point re-election victory last November, and preparation for a possible presidential bid. Instead, it's among the worst, and we’re not talking about the snowstorm hitting the Northeast. Christie's biggest political problem right now is that he's fighting wars on two different fronts, both of which increasingly look like wars of attrition.
The first war is the two-week-old George Washington Bridge scandal, and 18 new Christie aides and associates have been subpoenaed by New Jersey Democrats now investigating the matter. And, at the very least, it promises months of new email revelations, testimony, and storylines. (Since this is being led by the state Assembly, it also means it will likely grind Christie’s second-term agenda to a halt before it even begins.)
The second war is Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's allegation, first made on MSNBC over the weekend, that the Christie administration threatened to hold up the city’s Hurricane Sandy relief aid unless she supported a private development project. That matter is now being investigated by a federal prosecutor, and it also promises weeks and months of potential headaches for Team Christie. “What we’ve got now is a federal criminal investigation into the Christie administration’s administration of Sandy funds,” NBC’s Michael Isikoff reported yesterday. As history teaches us, a two-front war is never an enviable position for the person fighting it.
The difference between Christie’s two-front war and the three-front one Obama faced last summer
Of course, President Obama last summer was fighting a three-front war -- over the IRS targeting Tea Party-sounding groups, over the drafting of those Benghazi talking points, and over those leak investigations. But there is a SIGNIFICANT difference between what Obama faced last summer and what Christie faces now. As we’ve written before, you never saw a David Axelrod or David Plouffe email a Treasury Department appointee, saying: “Time for IRS problems for the Tea Party.” You never saw an email from a national-security aide with this sort of message: “We need to change these Benghazi talking points, because this is going to hurt the president’s re-election.” And there was never the allegation that Vice President Biden approached a reporter in a ShopRite saying, “You need to tell us who your source was in that leak, or we’re going to prosecute you.” To be sure, these imagined examples are a bit hyperbolic, but they get at this larger point: During IRS-Benghazi-leaks, there was never the kind of paper trail or alleged involvement from top aides that Christie’s administration is now dealing with. And there’s one additional problem for the governor: For the moment, he’s losing the benefit the doubt with every new allegation. Just see what former Olympian Carl Lewis is now saying. It’s a pile-on.
The biggest GOP beneficiary from Christie’s woes: Jeb Bush
Bottom line: At the very minimum, the first half of Christie’s 2014 is going to be consumed by these two different investigations, plus any new revelations that surface. And that buys other potential 2016 Republicans some additional time. Maybe the biggest beneficiary: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. After all, it was unlikely that BOTH Christie and Bush would run in 2016, because they’d divide up the establishment vote/support. But if Bush were starting to really think about a presidential bid -- under the impression that the best time for another Bush to run for the White House would be in the year that another Clinton does -- the Christie news has to give him even more to consider. So don’t be surprised if you start hearing an establishment drum beat for Jeb in the coming months, as major donors who were enamored with Christie decide to start looking elsewhere for an electable savior. Then again, Jeb needs to start working on his own mother first.
Christie’s inaugural plans
Here are the details for Christie’s inauguration activities today. At 8:00 am ET, he and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno attended a morning service at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark; the governor gets sworn in to his second term at 11:30 am ET; and he holds his inaugural gala on Ellis Island beginning at 7:00 pm ET. According to excerpts of the remarks he’ll deliver later this morning, Christie will talk about limited government and the opportunity to succeed. "I do not believe that New Jerseyans want a bigger, more expensive government that penalizes success and then gives the pittance left to a few in the name of income equity. What New Jerseyans want is an unfettered opportunity to succeed in the way they define success.” He’ll talk about the need for the state to remain united. “New Jersey came together as one community when it mattered most and now we must stay together.” And he’ll contrast his state’s politics with DC’s. “We cannot fall victim to the attitude of Washington, DC. The attitude that says I am always right and you are always wrong. The attitude that puts everyone into a box they are not permitted to leave. The attitude that puts political wins ahead of policy agreements.”
From “Yes we can” to “You’re a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids”
Turning from Christie to the current occupant of the Oval Office, what struck us the most about David Remnick’s revealing profile of Obama was the president’s admission that -- now beginning his sixth year in office -- he doesn’t control his own destiny and seems resigned to that. “One of the things that I’ve learned to appreciate more as president is you are essentially a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history,” Obama told the New Yorker’s Remnick. “You don’t start with a clean slate, and the things you start may not come to full fruition on your timetable. But you can move things forward. And sometimes the things that start small may turn out to be fairly significant.” That’s a far cry from the idealism and “yes we can” message from 2007-2008. Or even the idealist Obama that every once in a while showed up for big speeches in 2010, namely his commencement address at the University of Michigan in May 2010, when he gave his most detailed vision for the role of government. Of course, Obama has always been self-aware (that’s what you get when your mother was an anthropologist). And of course, this interview was conducted at the lowest point of Obama’s presidency (at the end of a rough 2013). But even some of his biggest supporters would admit after reading the piece that he’s deflated heading into next week’s State of the Union.
Branstad vs. Paul-ites
Don’t miss this Washington Post piece on how Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is engaged in a fight over the Hawkeye State -- with his own party. “[A]s they gather for biennial caucuses Tuesday evening, many Republicans, including Gov. Terry Branstad, worry that their party, run by supporters of former congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian firebrand, isn’t up to the challenge. Branstad is leading a not-so-quiet push to wrest control of the Iowa party, one front in the war for the soul of the GOP. And though the presidential contest is two years away, the health of the state party could affect the GOP’s more-immediate chances at winning control of the U.S. Senate.” This is a big moment for Iowa’s relevancy, especially with the presidential caucuses there on the horizon. If Brandstad fails to take back control of the state GOP, many an establishment Republican candidate for 2016 might feel more comfortable skipping Iowa, especially if they think the whole thing is rigged for Paul.
Poking holes into Wendy Davis’ bio
If you’re a politician, your biography matters. And if there’s an inconsistency with it, or if the facts don’t add up, then your opponents will pounce. The latest person to discover this is Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis (D). Here’s the Dallas Morning News from over the weekend: “While her state Senate filibuster last year captured national attention, it is her biography — a divorced teenage mother living in a trailer who earned her way to Harvard and political achievement — that her team is using to attract voters and boost fundraising. The basic elements of the narrative are true, but the full story of Davis’ life is more complicated.” More: “Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced. She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter. A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter. He paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School, and kept their two daughters while she was in Boston. When they divorced in 2005, he was granted parental custody, and the girls stayed with him. Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support.”
Tonight’s special election in Virginia could determine control of state Senate
Lastly, there’s a special state Senate election in Virginia that COULD have big implications in the state. The Washington Post: “Voters in Virginia’s 33rd Senate District will cast ballots Tuesday in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Mark R. Herring — a contentious three-way race that could determine control of the state’s evenly divided Senate. The trio of candidates vying for the seat — Democrat Jennifer Wexton, 10th Congressional District Republican Committee Chairman John Whitbeck and former state delegate Joe T. May, a veteran Republican who is running as an independent — have had only a few weeks to organize their campaigns and rally supporters across the district, a politically competitive territory spanning parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties.” What makes this special election a tad more interesting: Mother Nature has decided to cast a vote. Today’s bad weather will probably mean an even lower turnout than they expected. The loser will be wondering why Mother Nature cared so much about control of the Virginia Senate!