What do conservatives hate more: moderate, Obama-hugging Chris Christie, or the mainstream media? In the wake of Christie's Fort Lee bridge scandal, the answer is definitely the media.
Rush Limbaugh, a frequent critic of Christie, said Thursday that Republicans aren't defending the New Jersey governor, but instead fleeing "like a bunch of wildebeests." He only needed to wait a day. A Republican fundraiser complains to Politico Friday that the media was hounding Christie on Bridgeghazi despite giving President Obama a pass on the IRS scandal. Other Republicans told The Washington Post that at least Christie fired people, unlike Obama. "Republicans operate under a double media standard that holds them to a much lower scandal threshold," The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes on Friday. "In that sense the pathetic New Jersey traffic-lane scandal may be, as Mr. Obama likes to say, a teachable moment." There's nothing like a scandal to clarify your priorities.
Sure, the New Jersey governor has gotten some criticism from those Republicans he's personally pissed off, and from some conservatives who think the bridge incident is an example of the inherent thuggishness of big government. But Christie's two-hour press conference on Thursday created a conflict for conservatives. On one side there's Christie, the RINO media darling. On the other side is the liberal media, which is always wrong. So what does it mean that the media is attacking Chris Christie? Naturally, it means Christie isn't so bad after all. Even though he hugged Obama, Christie is not actually Obama.
RedState editor Erick Erickson essentially predicted this reaction on Wednesday, writing that the scandal "is such an easy fix." Erickson recommended a couple simple steps for the governor: "He needs to follow through and see that heads roll. Then he can point out that he has actually fired people, unlike President Obama." Sure enough, on Thursday night, former John McCain aide Steve Schmidt told The Washington Post that Christie's firing "sends a very clear signal: If you screw up, you violate the public trust, there’s not going to be an exercise in wagon-circling — there’s going to be an exercise in accountability."
During his Thursday broadcast, Limbaugh wavered between citing Bridgeghazi to condemn "hardball" political tactics, and anger that the media was coming down hard on a Republican. "If Chris Christie were a Democrat, I'm telling you right now the press would be celebrating the guy," Limbaugh said. Sure, it seems like Christie's aides were punishing regular people to get back at his political enemies, just like Obama did when he shut down the World War II memorial during the government shutdown. But! "Based on his performance today, based on what he's saying, if Christie were president, and the IRS scandal happened and some of the other things, he would fire whoever was involved in the IRS scandal."
In a way, Limbaugh expressed a hierarchy of enemies. Over many months, he's indicated he's not much of a fan of Christie, and certainly not of the Republican establishment. But he's on their side in a fight against the press:
A lot of the inside-the-Beltway Republican establishment types think he's the answer, because he's tough, and he handles the media well, but he's not conservative. So he's got a lot of support. And the media knows this. So here's a prominent Republican that the Republican Party establishment has invested high hopes, so let's do what we can to damage him.
That should be some comfort for establishment Republicans going into 2016. The conservative base will rally around an electable RINO, as long as they're reminded of the greater enemy.