FORTUNE — On one side are the arch defenders, extolling the bravura two-hour, no-question-off limits press conference.
On the other side are the carping critics, condemning the pity-party press conference that yielded few answers and repeated Nixonian denials that “I am not a bully.”
And while it’s quite true that few pinned-in-the corner politicians would have the chutzpah to take reporters’ best shots for as long as they wished, and it’s equally true that the distinguished governor from New Jersey is, in fact, a “bully” – the real point is that no matter which camp you’re in, this bare knuckles traffic scandal has cost Christie deeply.
The governor — indomitable, indestructible, unyielding — has raked himself into a pile of muck from which he likely won’t emerge — at least not enough to become the Republican nominee for President.
And he owes it all to his big, large self.
Gov. Christie, of course, denied for months that he or his administration had anything whatsoever to do with the inexplicable September shutdown of George Washington Bridge access lanes.
“Of course, we had nothing to do with it,” insisted the outspoken governor.
“Of course, there was no retribution against the Fort Lee mayor who didn’t endorse me.”
“Yeah, I got out there and personally moved the cones!”
All vintage Christie — pugnacious as ever, deflecting another set of scurrilous accusations designed to take him down.
Only this time, the accusations weren’t just scurrilous; they were true.
And while the governor now flails through embarrassing mea culpa press conferences and interviews, apologizing and blaming with furious anger the associates whose “unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge,” the damage, she is done. Nobody, in the final analysis, will care who he fires, how he reacts, or how “heartbroken” he is that someone betrayed his “circle of trust” (Who is he, Bobby DeNiro??)
Gov. Christie, no matter what really happened, how much he knew or what he says, is damaged goods; so damaged that he likely won’t be nominated for Republican presidential candidate any time soon.
Here’s why, in public relations terms, he’s cooked.
1. He no longer merits a pass for being arrogant.
Any of us who stick our necks out, are categorical in our decisions, and sometimes defy the common wisdom, are flying without a net. That’s why most politicians — and most people — are politically correct, mealy-mouthed, and generally go with the flow. In politics, as in life, if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
Christie, despite his press conference denials, is well known for being arrogant and vindictive. One need only watch his many bullying YouTube performances to see how viciously he can eviscerate a non-believer. That was all good as long as he basically delivered on what he claimed. What’s a little arrogance as long as the trains run on time?
But now that the trains — or at least the cars — have stopped and his administration’s performance is revealed as diametrically counter to the “bipartisanship” he preached, Christie’s arrogance becomes an issue. That’s why the governor was so conciliatory in his press conference.
He recognizes that while Americans will embrace a dictatorial leader who gets things done (see Michael Bloomberg), they won’t abide arrogance from one who doesn’t deliver what he promises.
2. He no longer exudes competence.
Gov. Christie’s strong suit was always “competence;” he got out there and battled Hurricane Sandy, put down the teachers’ union, and talked tough to the Tea Party.
The buck stopped with him. Until the George Washington Bridge did him in.
Now, sadly, wimpishly, he blames his associates for keeping him in the dark. I knew nothing. They duped me. The old team betrayed me. They didn’t let me in on it. What?
You mean to say that despite the many months that this scandal dominated the headlines, the many meetings with long-standing inner circle staff members, and his many subsequent denials of administration involvement, Gov. Christie, after all this time, had “no knowledge” of who did what to whom? And, as he revealingly acknowledged at the press conference, he didn’t even bother to seek answers from his fired associate of 14 years on the way out?
He’s either lying or incompetent; one or the other, take your pick.
Either way, he’s toast to the Republicans.
3. He turns out to be just another slimy politician.
Finally, and most damning of all, with this ultimate Democrat gotcha, Chris Christie revealed himself as just another self-serving politician; prevaricating, covering up, saying one thing and doing another, and then apologizing for getting caught.
Prior to all this, of course, the signs were already clear that while Christie talked a good show, he wasn’t much better than all those other bottom-feeders who populate the U.S. Congress.
Specifically, Christie called a special U.S. Senate election in October for shoo-in Corey Booker, rather than adding Booker’s election to the gubernatorial ballot. Why? Essentially, so that he could achieve a guaranteed landslide reelection. The special election cost New Jersey taxpayers (like me!!) millions of unnecessary dollars and suggested that the hard-charging man of the people wasn’t really much different than your garden variety political climber interested in one thing, himself.
And now, with the likely aftermath of the unnecessary bridge work — the anticipated additional egregious emails, attorney general investigations, and potentially damaging rebuttals from the loyalists he summarily shoved under the bus — Gov. Christie’s ascension on the national stage has clearly stalled, stopped, and headed groundward.
Somewhere, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are smiling.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, commentator, author and teacher for 40 years. He teaches public relations at NYU and is the author of the Prentice- Hall textbook The Practice of Public Relations, now in its 12
edition, and co-author of Rethinking Reputation and Idea Wise. He may be reached at