No one is ever truly prepared to be president of the United States. Judging by this week’s events and today’s news conference in Trenton, that includes New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
No one ever became president without having a very high opinion of himself, of course, and by all accounts Christie passes this test easily. At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, would-be presidents need an equally high capacity for growth. They start the grand quest seeming undersized. Over the course of a political career, and the elections that define and extend it, they become larger. Not larger than life, but larger than their former selves and, ultimately, their competitors.
The process involves a strange alchemy. But one clear component is self-discipline. The drive for power and fame that exists in every would-be president often has unsavory origins -- a sometimes bottomless craving for the love of the crowd, or gnawing insecurities about self-worth. (Lyndon Johnson had both.) To win and hold the office requires a willingness to confront and tame personal demons.
This, it appears, Christie has failed to do. His 2013 re-election was the perfect opportunity to rise above his reputation as a petulant bully. Coasting to a landslide victory against an overmatched foe, the governor had every reason, and boundless opportunity, to be magnanimous. Instead, his most trusted senior staff -- and did it really end there? -- blocked the entrance lanes to the nation’s busiest bridge.
The e-mails and texts published this week reveal a deliberately engineered four-day traffic jam, apparently with the goal of punishing a political rival. The messages are mind-boggling in their pettiness, stupidity and contempt for the state’s residents. The action was bizarrely, almost inconceivably, small.
“Mistakes were made,” Christie said at his news conference, at which he announced that he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly. “I am heartbroken that someone I permitted into that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust.”
Heartbreak is always sad, and mistakes happen. The petty vindictiveness and abject contempt for public welfare displayed by the governor’s top aides are, thankfully, more rare.
Christie’s news conference was admirably contrite, but it did not resolve questions about his judgment, temperament or management style. He will be able to address such questions -- the adage of “show, don’t tell” applies as much in politics as in writing -- through his cooperation with various inquiries over the next few weeks and months. Then, if he’s lucky, he may be able to further refine his answer in a presidential campaign.
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