If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants to run for president in 2016 (which, a new interview suggests, he does), he'll spend this critical year watching new mud accumulate on his record. Hillary Clinton is spending it wiping dirt away.
Matt Bai of Yahoo News has the first interview with Christie since the governor's lengthy press conference two weeks ago addressing allegations that an aide played a role in shutting down the George Washington Bridge, backing traffic into the town of Fort Lee for some as-yet-undetermined reason. Bai's interview took place last Friday, before the Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer accused Christie's lieutenant governor of threatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy relief funds — and Zimmer spent several hours discussing the accusation with the U.S. Attorney. At that point, Christie was unbowed.
"I don’t know exactly what it is yet that I’ll learn from it," Christie told Bai about the scandal. "But when I get the whole story and really try to understand what’s going on here, I know I’m going to learn things." That's a fair assumption. Christie also drew a contrast to 2011, when he told Bai that he wasn't yet ready to run for president. Christie now insists he's "readier" — though how much of that readiness stems from having spent two weeks taking some pretty serious punches isn't clear.
The Washington Post outlines how Hillary Clinton will spend her next 12 to 18 months: pushing a new memoir that, she hopes, will reframe her legacy as a senator and secretary of state. She'll have help in doing so. Just as the Ready for Hillary PAC is working unofficially to build a campaign team, another group, Correct the Record, will be working to rebut the longstanding critiques of Clinton. "Correct the Record is developing digital and social-media campaigns that would complement Clinton’s book," the Post reports, "including building an interactive map that would let users click on any country to find out specific things Clinton did there as secretary..." Among the focal points will be the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, which occurred on her watch.
Clearly Clinton has learned from the experience of her successor, John Kerry. In 2004, his strong campaign to replace George W. Bush was submarined, in part, thanks to scurrilous attacks from a group called Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth. (Last week, The Onion suggested that the group's long investigation into Kerry finally concluded.) In 2008, Obama similarly worked to overcome negative attacks, launching a website called "Fight The Smears."
Christie can take consolation in two things. First, that Obama launched that site only a few months before the election (though, of course, Obama was already far in the lead by that point). Second, it's not yet clear how badly Christie will be tarnished by the bridge scandal. The governor spent the weekend in Florida appearing at Republican fundraisers. As The New York Times reports, Christie largely avoided discussion of his own future prospects. He said that he had not been enjoying the last 11 days ("No sane person would") but had a terse recommendation for those interested in discussing his presidential prospects: "Come see me next year."
By then, Christie will either be explicitly running for president or, should the U.S. Attorney's investigation recommend another direction, obviously not. If he is running, his main opponent will have a year's head start.