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Opinion :: Chris Christie's not-so-subtle blunder
· 8:28pm January 12th, 2014
Most people who have paid attention to the whole George Washington Bridge-closing scandal believe that it means bad news for the presidential aspirations of New Jersey Governor Chris (The Redundancy) Christie.
But most Americans do not understand why.
The problem is not that Christie and/or his staff members tried to publicly punish a political foe.
The problem is that they are such klutzes about it.
Everyone in politics – even our most beloved Presidents, like Honest Abe – has understood that rewarding political allies and punishing political enemies is one of the benefits of public office-holding.
Most Presidents, however, know that it is a subtle art.
The key to effective political opponent punishment is to do it in a sophisticated way that makes the intended target clearly aware that he has been punished, and why – but without letting the general public know anything about it.
Here’s a modern example: Everyone knows that President Obama has opposed TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline, citing environmental concerns. But what most people do not know is that in 2008, TransCanada made all of its political donations to Hillary Clinton – who of course, was Obama’s main opponent.
Thus, President Obama can confidently punish TransCanada for supporting Hillary, while doing absolutely nothing illegal or inappropriate. He can even cite honorable intentions for opposing this project, even though you can be sure that everyone at TransCanada is telling each other, “Eh, we shoulda given that money to Obama.”
In the Reagan administration, wrote former speechwriter Peggy Noonan, The Gipper would punish his political foes by assigning them to important-sounding, but meaningless government duties. These people would accept these appointments but then soon realize that they, in the phraseology of that area, “got rolled.”
Remember Rod Blagojevich? The Illinois Governor-turned Illinois Inmate was caught on tape saying, effectively, “What’s in it for me?” while discussing who to appoint to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate.
The problem is not that Blagojevich made the appointment based on what was best for him; the problem is that he actually said he was making the appointment based on what was best for him.
What Blagojevich should have done – and what virtually all governors in this situation do – is say: “Well, my staff and I are thoroughly examining all of the potential candidates, trying to determine who would best serve the State of Illinois.”
Then, a few days later, he – to phrase this in his native Chicagoese – shoulda called da guy and said, “Hey, I am looking for someone to help me with an important project. Can I count on you?”
And the man to whom he was speaking would have known that the two conversations are related – that if he wanted the Senate job for himself or his ally, then he needed to seriously consider the Governor’s offer.
But, of course, that didn’t happen; Blagojevich’s unsophisticated approach to political graft soon led him to a life in another state-run domicile.
But back to Christie:
If he wanted to punish Mark Sokolich – a Democrat – for not endorsing his bid for re-election as New Jersey’s Republican Governor, he had many options.
He could have tied up funding for Fort Lee in some bureaucratic red tape. He could have appointed the Mayor to some important-sounding but meaningless commission. He could have given him a cold shoulder at a black-tie affair.
He had lots of options – good options – things he could have done to effectively communicate to Mayor Sokolich the folly of not endorsing him without causing all of this scandal (not to mention the traffic headaches for the general public, which already deals with unimaginable traffic woes daily).
But no, Christie – or at least his staff members – chose the dumbest option. And even worse, they chose an option that directly hurt constituents.
Anyone who was thinking about supporting Chris Christie for President now must seriously reconsider this decision.
And we, as Iowans – who have the first say in who should be our next President via our still-first-in-the-nation-caucues – should be paying more attention to stories like this than the rest of America.
Any man who is not able surround himself with people who know how to properly punish political opponents – especially after years of politicking in a state like New Jersey – has a lot to learn before he starts traveling around the country, telling us he is qualified to be President.
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