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Chris Christie Is Done—Even If He Survives the Traffic Scandal

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

New York's Jonathan Chait has made the best case for why Chris Christie 's potential 2016 run for the presidency is doomed. As Chait sees it, the sheer amount of investigatory energy that will be expended by both lawmakers and the media is likely to bring Christie down. Moreover, the different scandals swirling around him—from Ft. Lee to Hurricane Sandy relief funds—are probably related to each other in at least one way: they each stem from an administration that is arrogant, bullying, and possibly corrupt. As Chait writes:

The odds that any one of them develops into something indictable are high. And they’re not just high in the mathematical sense that a person who gets shot at a bunch of times is more likely to be hit by a bullet. They’re high because the high number of scandals surrounding Christie, and the pattern of gleefully using his power to punish his foes, suggests that at least some of the allegations against him are true.The odds of any scandal striking pay dirt are not mathematically independent.

This analysis makes sense to me, but Chait and others are overlooking another liability Christie has, and one that will likely overshadow any campaign he can mount in two years. Christie's biggest problem is that he will have to completely alter his entire political persona. To explain what I mean, watch this clip from The Departed, with Matt Damon and Vera Farmiga:

Once upon a time, these two were in love! They planned to live a happy life together in Boston and have beautiful kids. And now? Well, she can hardly look at him. In her mind, he is no longer handsome, hardworking Matt Damon but instead a corrupt cop and murderer whose entire "narrative" was built on lies.

And that's where the Christie comparison comes in. (No he is not a murderer or a corrupt cop.) Here was someone who had built his reputation as a somewhat irascible, straight-talking, average guy. He didn't put up with any nonsense, whether it came from union bosses or underpaid nurses. He didn't have time for bullshit. 

It was an unresolved question whether this personality would play well over the course of an entire presidential campaign. But what about post Bridgegate? Just imagine what will result the next time Christie screams at someone, or even acts peevishly with a reporter. Not only will it be a national story, but my hunch is that even the people who enjoyed this side of his personality will see his behavior through glasses that are the opposite of rose-tinted. It will simply not be possible to view him in the same light. "Toughness" will come across as bullying; "straight-talk" will seem gimmicky; anger will appear thuggish.

What this means, most likely, is that he will have to reinvent himself into a different kind of politician: more buttoned-up, more responsible, less wild. This is a very difficult thing for even a skilled politician like Christie to do (especially if not all of his outbursts are planned). But it also defeats the entire purpose of his candidacy. Why not just nominate Marco Rubio or Scott Walker? (It also makes it impossible for him to paper over his differences with the Repulican right; his plan was to do so by using his tough-guy demeanor.)

Bridgegate, then, is likely to sink Christie in the long run, regardless of whether or not he survives the next couple of months.