The year was 1992, and a certain Governor was in Livingston High School intent on turning the presidential tide in his direction in New Jersey.
It was then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, according to the recollection of one insider, who told PolitickerNJ that he vividly remembers Clinton campaigning at the high school, which this morning is the scene of Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential campaign kickoff.
Although they belong to different parties, the landscape around their candidacies is decidedly different, Clinton was in the midst of an economic upswing in his home state and enjoying high favorability ratings when he ran for president, and the Arkansan’s appearance at Livingston High was in the general election, not primary, time frame, Christie and Clinton share at least one common trait.
Ok, maybe more than one.
We just remembered, Clinton had to beat a guy named Bush, too.
But in addition to that, they both have a Teflon self-belief that pushes them forward even when people around them are telling them to back down or bail.
In this New York Times piece, Matt Bai delves into how self-demolished presidential candidate Gary Hart changed American politics forever, but out of Hart’s downfall and shame over an exposed extramarital episode four years later emerged the undeterred candidacy of Clinton, a candidate who refused to be shocked by the scandals that constantly threatened to doom his chances.
Clinton’s escapades made Monkey Business look like pre-school. But unlike Hart, he didn’t give a damn if some people felt his antics disqualified him.
Of course, he won the primary that year and the general election.
No one is saying Christie’s fate will be the same, and certainly it may be a stretch to identify what may be simply an Achilles Heel in both men and suggest that this is precisely what defines a leader. But the overwhelming atmosphere around Christie right now suggests that he cannot win, is mortally politically wounded, and is not a man of destiny. The Republicans who are with him whisper off the record that they merely don’t want the discomfort of having to deal with him angry when he returns from an unsuccessful run and so support him. Call it stubbornness, cuckoo cloud land, pure hubris, or vision, but Christie’s refusal to be hampered by Bridgegate carries the same brutal refusal to allow scandal to stand in the way of an upward shot, that Clinton possessed.
The next few months will determine whether his dogged desire to run proves to be an iron, unmovable will in the midst of seeming self-created shambles around him, or simply the sad eccentricities of ego.