In his apology press conference on Thursday morning, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie insisted that the George Washington Bridge scandal is an aberration. "This is not the tone I've set over the last for years," he said. While Christie may not have ordered staffers to close lanes to get back at Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, he closest staffers seem to have believed that this kind of behavior is not only acceptable, but encouraged. When deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly typed "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," she was mimicking Christie's own tough-guy schtick. "I have a very blunt, direct personality," Christie said on Thursday. That can make for a straight talker — or an off-putting jerk.
As Ezra Klein and others have argued, Christie is a real-life bully. Christie disagrees — he explicitly stated this morning, "I am not a bully." But as New Jersey Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski told The New York Times in December,
"Every organization takes its cues from the leadership as to what’s acceptable and what’s not, and this governor, in his public appearances, has made thuggery acceptable. For the governor to say, ‘I knew nothing about this’? He created the atmosphere in which this is acceptable."
The Guardian's Michael Cohen concurs: Christie has "almost a complete lack of impulse control." Even Snooki's sick of him:
As Wisniewski points out, Christie's rude behavior is often on display at town halls and campaign events. At almost every Q&A, Christie finds an opponent and relishes in telling him or her off.
During the Romney campaign, he infamously made a oral sex joke in response to a female heckler.
In the summer of 2012, Christie got into it with a passerby on the Jersey Shore boardwalk. "Keep walking away," he shouts at a guy who criticized his education policy.
This May, Christie called "bullshit" on residents who didn't want the state to build dunes on their property. He told children in the audience to cover their ears before he said this "indelicate" word. Christie's staff then uploaded the video to Youtube themselves.
In fact, Christie's staff has an entire collection of Christie's quips on Youtube. He's not embarrassed by his bullying behavior, he embraces it as part of his character. Some have suggested that the governor plants questions in the audience at his speeches, so that he shows just the right amount of sass.
When an older man asked him about planting questions at a town hall meeting in 2011, Christie blew up his spot. "If I plant questions, why the hell did I call on you?" he shouts.
Most recently, Christie yelled at a teacher during a campaign rally in November. "I'm tired of you people. What more do you want?" he spat, before getting back on the campaign bus.
And the rally ends, inevitably, with Christie arguing with a teacher pic.twitter.com/YyLsoJVTWQ— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 2, 2013
As Klein notes, "It's entirely possible that Christie didn't know very much about the bridge episode. It might just be the product of the culture he's created, or permitted, to arise around him." We'll find out soon enough if Christie's directly responsible — a U.S. attorney is now in New Jersey to probe the lane closures, according to The New York Times. But when you look at the collection of Christie's quips — many of which he's proud of — it's not hard to see where "Time for some problems in Fort Lee" and "children of Buono voters" come from.
As Christie noted in a town hall in 2011, "What you need to understand is we're all from New Jersey. What that means is, if you give it you're going to get it back."