Whenever there’s a scandal, everybody reaches for ‘Nixonian’ and the 20 shelves of psychobabble written on what that term means. It’s almost as hackneyed as attaching a “-gate” to every scandal name. So let me start by saying I’m not saying Christie is “Nixonian” or Nixonian in the big sense. But there is a narrow sense in which this is highly, highly redolent of a big part of the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down.
Watergate ended up bringing in a lot of other stuff. But the core scandal was screwing with the Democrats to leverage the 1972 election – the break-in and a lot else. But Nixon was on track for a massive reelection victory. Some of the lesser tier dirty tricks may have helped buttress that victory (helping assure McGovern was the nominee) and his team didn’t know for sure in mid-1972 that it would be such a slamming landslide. But things looked very, very good.
And so all the Watergate villainy was really needless. He was already winning and on track to win big. For Nixon that went to some of the tragic elements of the man. Because for Nixon it was the deep paranoia which drove him.
That last part isn’t like Christie. But the essential dynamic is pretty similar. All year last year it was clear that Christie was set for a massive win. So just think how needless this was. Whether he did it or his aides did, this was an effort to get a Democratic mayor to endorse him. A Democratic mayor. No one expects members of the opposite party to endorse you, though many did.
Now, there’s some sense in which Christie didn’t just want and need to win. His 2016 presidential strategy rested on racking up a big number, somewhat along the line that George W. Bush did in his second term as Governor of Texas. And this even more so in a blue state. But at the end of the day, just in the crassest and most cynical terms, there was simply no reason to do this.
With Christie, I doubt it’s paranoia. In fact, I’m almost sure of it. I don’t think the man has the sort of insecurities and self-doubt that drove Nixon to greatness and infamy. It seems more like some tough guy ambition and need to get everybody to fall into line – a crazy ambition to run the table.
Whatever it was, ironically, I think he or someone working on his behalf has dealt his 2016 ambitions a devastating blow.