A potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate who’s been to Iowa a handful of times in the past four years says members of his staff exhibited “abject stupidity” for engineering traffic jams as retribution against a political foe.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been to Iowa twice at Governor Terry Branstad’s invitation, once for a Branstad campaign fundraiser in 2010 and in mid-2011 as keynote speaker for the governor’s education summit.
“Governor Branstad believes Governor Chris Christie made it clear that political misconduct will not be tolerated and that actions have consequences,” Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said in a written statement late this afternoon.
University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle watched the first hour of Christie’s nearly two-hour news conference today. According to Hagle, “it’s an open question” as to whether Christie’s presidential aspirations are doomed.
“It’s certainly an embarrassment, as Christie himself said….If there is something that connects him directly to this, if it turns out that he did have some knowledge of this, that’s going to really hurt him badly,” Hagle said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “…It wasn’t entirely clear how well he was going to be received in Iowa anyway, in part, because social conservatives might have not liked his positions on social issues and certainly I had argued before that Christie would have to come to Iowa and at least make his case.”
Hagle, though, said Christie showed “leadership” by firing the staffer who directly ordered the traffic snarls and calling for his closest advisor to step away from key posts with the Republican Governors Association and the New Jersey Republican Party.
Fifty-four-year-old Tom Mazza of Clive moved to Iowa from New Jersey in 2009 and he shrugs off the idea this episode is the death knell for Christie’s political career.
“Really, to me, it’s a lot to do about nothing. It’s political retribution. They do it all the time. Both parties,” Mazza said during an interview with Radio Iowa late this afternoon. “…I don’t think he’s ruined. I just don’t think he’s ready for prime time when it comes to presidential material.”
Mazza briefly volunteered for Christie’s first campaign for governor before he left New Jersey. Mazza doubts Christie is “so stupid” as to have directly ordered the traffic snarls as payback for a mayor who did not endorse Christie’s 2013 bid for reelection.
“Now, that doesn’t stop the clowns who work for him,” Mazza added.
Mazza has been surprised by the number of Iowans who’ve noticed his New Jersey accent and struck up a conversation about Christie.
“I think he’s a bigger than life kind of a guy…Everybody’s impressed or infatuated or, you know, there’s some kind of ‘Hey, this guy looks cool. He looks like a mobster,’” Mazza said, laughing. “He talks tough. He doesn’t take crap from the press. He could be a bully at times. He could be abrasive, but you never have to guess where he’s coming from. He lets you pretty much know.”
And that is Christie primary appeal, according to Mazza, who said New Jersey “is a mess” and he hopes Christie remains governor for a few more terms to clean it up.