That giant, inflatable Chris-Christie-for-president trial balloon is up in the skies again. It didn't take much -- just a news report from an NBC affiliate stating that prosecutors involved in the myriad, criss-crossing probes of Christie's affairs of state are now convinced that he didn't order or have advance knowledge of the 2013 lane-closing-as-political-revenge plot on the George Washington Bridge.
For Christie and his boosters -- by which I mainly mean the type of Beltway "journalists" and pundits you might find on "Morning Joe" at roughly 6:05 a.m. -- the burst of energy from that announcement practically carried the New Jersey governor to Iowa on the winds. Christie '16 is back with a vengeance. The governor wants the probes of his conduct wrapped up, saying last week: "These are people who are addicted to MSNBC and the front page of your papers."
There's a few things you might want to ponder, though, before you take a ride in Christie's beautiful balloon. I'll list them in what I think are ascending order of importance:
1) The news that prosecutors have no evidence -- yet -- tying Christie to the lane closures, clearly the most egregious action related to Bridgegate, isn't surprising if you follow the case closely. That development was foreshadowed by months of news reports that didn't find a direct link, either. However, the investigation isn't over yet, and the two Christie associates directly tied to the lane closures -- David Wildstein of the Port Authority and Bridget Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who was with Christie when emailing "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee -- could "flip" and provide more information about the state of the governor's awareness. Also, in the same mode of Watergate in which President Nixon was never personally tied to the original break-in, the question still lingers about the GWB: What made two close associates of Christie think that such a harmful and probably illegal act would please the governor, their boss?
2) You may have forgotten -- seven months or so is an eternity in today's politics -- but the Pandora's box that opened with the Bridgegate news at the start of this year included a variety of actions that have been reported as under investigation by federal prosecutors, some of which involve alleged acts by the Christie administration that are arguably worse than closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The laundry list includes allegations that Hoboken was denied Sandy relief monies when the mayor declined to endorse Christie, that other Sandy funds were doled out to friends and supporters despite little or no link to storm damage, that federal dollars paid for a Sandy-related tourism campaign that featured the governor and his family and boosted his re-election, and that his close ally named to head the Port Authority used the post to enrich his law firm. And those are just the big items on the list.
3) Here's the most important thing to think about when you think about Chris Christie in the Oval Office as our 45th president: Almost always, the worst "crimes" are the ones that you don't find in the criminal code. Over the last five years, the New Jersey governor has been running a political Ponzi scheme -- probably legal but definitely immoral -- in steering money, huge tax breaks, and other perks to his friends and to the 1 Percent, while the poor and middle class have suffered.
I mean, if a governor wants to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, he or she has got to have a good economic record or else. From Michael Dukakis and the paper-thin "Massachusetts miracle" of the 1980s to W. and 1990s job gains in Texas (News flash: Everybody gained jobs in the 1990s), that's been the minimum price for admission. But if that's the standard for evaluation of Christie's reign in the Garden State, the New Jersey governor should be looking to join Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett in that South Carolina retirement condo, not running for the White House.
Here's the latest news, from just last week, on the "Christie miracle" in New Jersey:
New Jersey was one of three states that saw both a jump in the number of people living in poverty and the poverty rate in 2013, according to new Census numbers.The data released on Thursday shows that while the poverty rates in most states has plateaued, New Jersey's poverty rate actually went up from 10.8 percent in 2012 to 11.4 percent in 2013.
That should come as no surprise, as it was reported earlier this year that New Jersey ranks 50th -- that's correct, 50th out of 50 -- when it came to job growth over the prior 12 months. Some of that is similar to what we've seen here in Pa. -- Christie's jihad against union teachers and his failure to tackle New Jersey's infrastructure has killed public-sector jobs, or, as some people like to call them, jobs. But then there's Christie's overall tax policies, which favor the rich and the well-connected.
Remember that the $82 million tax break that the Christie administration flung at the 76ers to move their practice facility to Camden, a project that will create few jobs for local residents? That was just one of a series of similar tax credits and incentives that went to Christie donors and others whose projects will create hardly any jobs for the middle class. Meanwhile, my friend David Sirota has written an amazing series of articles on how the Christie administration has bent or possibly broken the rules on pension investments for well-connected cronies -- articles that have received scant attention from a mainstream media that's champing at he bit to cover Christie on the trail for 2016.
The bottom line is that when you look at the big picture, sawing off the piece about whether Christie had advance knowledge of the lane closing doesn't change the course of the giant political iceberg headed his way. Whatever exoneration looks like, it doesn't look like this.