Scrutiny of Gov. Chris Christie's (R-NJ) administration's conduct surrounding last September's George Washington Bridge traffic jam and MWW's “Stronger than the Storm” marketing campaign will continue for the foreseeable future. State and federal officials are just beginning their investigations that will raise more questions and most likely open the door to additional issues.
Democrats in New Jersey and Washington smell blood with these dual issues. They were mostly quieted when Christie was running for re-election last fall with a 60% approval rating. Now there's an opening, they believe, to permanently damage his credibility with voters.
Christie strongly denied any personal wrongdoing or prior knowledge of anything improper at an epic 107-minute-long press conference. He left no space to later back out of those statements. If it turns out that he lied, he's finished. No amount of investigatory obstruction would save him at that point.
As of now, much of Christie's fate is both in his own hands, but also out of his control. His best course of action is to be the aggressive and tough-talking governor he always has been and, if his story holds up, cooperate with investigators. In fact, if he is exonerated, it is possible he will come out of this looking better than ever as he mulls a potential run for the White House. He can tell voters this has all been a learning experience that taught him how to better run an administration. He will be able to claim it has made him more battle tested and even better ready to lead the country.
Voters love these sorts of redemption stories. Recent political history is proof of this. George W. Bush was frank and open about his recovery from alcoholism and his subsequent religious awakening. He told that story to great effect in 2000. Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father detailed his transformation from troubled childhood to successful adulthood, helping him in 2008 to come across as authentic. Both directly took on an issue that could have been potentially disqualifying for higher office and turned it into a positive.
One group in particular is starting to shine through in this PR crisis. MWW is doing a great job pushing back against criticism of their “Stronger than the Storm” marketing campaign contract. Their statement, which strongly refuted claims that their bid was chosen for unethical political reasons, is a great example of defending yourself when the truth is on your side. This is particularly difficult to do when there is a simultaneous wave of attack coming at Gov. Christie over the bridge issue.
The coming weeks and months will be difficult for those on the receiving end of this drama. Aggressive defense, cooperation with investigators, and carrying on as usual has proven to be Christie's best course of action in the past. If all turns out well for both Christie and MWW, they will both emerge in an even better position than before.
Sam Singer is president of Singer Associates in San Francisco. A former journalist and political campaign manager, he has spent the past 20-plus years helping a wide variety of clients develop their public affairs strategies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.