First we heard James Carville, one of President Clinton’s closest political advisors, who said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Now, with a clearer vision of what Richard Nixon did during Watergate, we can say, “It’s always the cover up.” That’s what happened to Nixon in Watergate, to Clinton with Monica Lewinski, to General David Patraeus, to countless other public figures throughout the nation’s history. The initial act or even “crime” may be bad, but that malfeasance is always compounded by the effort to cover it up.
If Richard Nixon had admitted to commissioning “the White House plumbers” to instigate a host of pranks against Democrats, he might have survived. After all, he had a tremendous electoral lead over his opponent, Sen. George McGovern (D-SD). Similarly, Christie had a tremendous lead over his 2013 Democratic opponent for governor, State Senator Barbara Buono.
Nixon held the country in suspense for over two years by not taking responsibility for his transgressions. Rather, he was firing attorneys-general, special prosecutors, or top White House aides, all the while trying to shift the blame. Without Watergate, he might now be viewed as a decent president who actually continued or strengthened numerous Great Society programs and also opened the door to China. His greatest mistake would have been his failure to get America out of Vietnam in a timely fashion. This certainly would have hurt his reputation, but not as much as mishandling Vietnam and then compounded by Watergate.
Who knows what lies ahead for Chris Christie? In all likelihood he will either be caught lying (did he possibly have a tape-recording system in his office)? If it’s not lying, then either his judgment of the character of his top aides was terrible or he was simply a careless manager of his staff. He has already been mimicking Nixon by firing aides, in his case with the crassness to not even meet with them face-to-face.
At this point, his best strategy might be to (1) admit what really happened, (2) resign, and (3) join a host of former politicians who wrote the book The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step to Survive Crisis. He could give his honest assessment of what happened and then write a book about it, including advice to other politicians suggesting ways in which they can limit the damage when the do something wrong. It’s not the best place to be, but it’s about as good as it gets after the initial demise. I seriously doubt that he will take this approach, but when he likely resigns in full disgrace, he may have wished that he took this route.
Considering Christie’s hubris, I doubt that he will relent on the fight. Perhaps what we as citizens can do is to continue to be skeptical of politicians who are in the middle of bizarre incidents and plead for us to believe them and extend special forgiveness. It doesn’t pass the giggle test.