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Mark Steyn On Chris Christie’s Press Conference Today

Friday, January 10, 2014

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HH: On an epic day in American political history with an epic press conference by a very big an voluble governor, Chris Christie, there is nothing to do except double down with Mark Steyn, who’s agreed to stay for two segments today. Read all of Mark’s work at, actually, follow him on Twitter @MarkSteynOnline, and go to www.steynonline.com. Hello, Mark, welcome.

MS: Hey, Hugh, good to be with you.

HH: Now did you get to watch it live? Or did you simply see excerpts of the Chris Christie press conference?

MS: No, no, I saw the thing, yeah.

HH: And so what did you make of it?

MS: Well, I had a bit of a problem with the, I mean, let me sort of back up a bit. I mean, talking about it in terms of what it means for Chris Christie’s political future and the 2016 race, I feel slightly uncomfortable about doing that, because this, a woman died because of this. And that’s a simple fact. A woman died because the ambulance couldn’t get to her in time, and so she’s dead. And so for me, the important question is not whether Chris Christie can do sufficient damage control to position himself well for the New Hampshire primary or whatever, but how we can stop political staffers from being so myopic in their view of what their job is that they wind up killing American citizens, because when American political staffers are essentially jerking the citizenry around to the point of death, then I think that’s the larger problem.

HH: Well, that does connect us up to Benghazi, but I don’t think it’s been established, yet, Mark, that she would have lived but for the G.W. closure. I mean, if that’s the case, even the crazy Ashleigh Banfield, who was talking about felony murder today, I mean, way, way out ahead of the story, would be justified.

MS: No, no, no, no. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about prosecuting the deputy chief of staff for felony murder or manslaughter or whatever. But I’m simply saying, you know New York/New Jersey. I was in Manhattan, I think it was last year, for the paperback launch of After America, and we were doing a television interview in New Jersey. So the car comes, and it takes two hours to get me to a studio just across the river in New Jersey. At the best of times, a New York-New Jersey commute involving a bridge or tunnel is not a great thing. So to have political staffers actually making it worse for political reasons gets to the heart of what’s wrong, what’s so upside down about politics in this country, and just to back to, you know, it hasn’t been definitively confirmed that she would have lived if they had got to her, in other words, you’re saying that by delaying the ambulance getting to her, it doesn’t, that did not necessarily prove the fatal part of whatever happened to this woman. That’s the wrong way to look at it. These people are supposed to be making the bridge from New York to New Jersey better. That’s why there’s government. That’s the point of government. Government isn’t there for private score settling. Government is supposed to do those things that only government can do, like arranging a transportation system between two states that makes it possible for an ambulance to get to a sick woman in time.

HH: This, I agree with.

MS: And because…

HH: But what I’d caution on is proximate cause matters to us lawyers. And when I heard Ashleigh Banfield going from screwball with the G.W. Bridge to Chris Christie’s responsible for the death of the woman, I just think there’s a lot of steps there. Not impossible, but possible…

MS: No, no, no, but you know, to put it then in political terms, it’s important to think about that earlier. Those MSNBC guys, for example, saying that this is the equivalent of Chris Christie’s Willie Horton moment, you know, that once they put a name to this woman, this poor, dead woman, they are going to hang her corpse around Chris Christie’s neck, and they’re going to make that connection. And so it’s important, that’s why it’s important for there to be some sense of righteous indignation. We might not ever be able to, as you say, you’re a lawyer, Hugh, and it might never be possible in legal terms to provide a connection good enough that would result in being able to send someone to the electric chair for what they did. Nobody’s talking about that. But the direct connection between frivolous, myopic, hyperpartisan jerking around and a corpse on the slab in the Fort Lee morgue, that’s a lot easier to make in political terms.

HH: Yes, it is, and there will be, by the way, a long stream of people who were in those cars those days who will now be coming forward with their stories to tell that might not necessarily end up in death, but might end up in not reaching critical moments and not getting to critical people. The Democrats are lining them up. Let’s go to the tape, Mark Steyn, and here is the opening of Chris Christie earlier today, cut number two:

CC: And I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee, and I apologize to the members of the state legislature. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.

HH: And he goes on to say cut number three:

CC: All of the people who were affected by this conduct deserve this apology, and that’s why I’m giving it to them. I also need to apologize to them for my failure as the governor of this state to understand the true nature of this program sooner than I did.

HH: Now I am very impressed by the tour de force he took on today, Mark, putting aside the obvious tragedy of all that occurred as a consequence of political meddling with the operation of infrastructure, because he actually answered questions, I though, in authentic, direct, transparent and apparently without any preconditions on time, which is such a contrast with everything we’ve seen for the last five years.

MS: No, I thought if you put it in those terms, Hugh, he did a good job. Simply at being able to just stand there and say come on, throw whatever you’ve got at me, and keep it going for two hours, that in itself, I think, did him some good, because we all know the Republican Party has certainly been saddled with presidential candidates you would not want to see answering questions on a difficult matter for two hours. And I think from that point of view, it’s effective as long as it holds up. Right now, he’s basically contained the problem at deputy chief of staff level, and he’s fired that lady, and people believe…if it goes above that, and if they can find something in that two hours of soundbytes that turns out not to be true, then I think he’s in deep trouble.

HH: Oh, my goodness, if they find an email that he has been bcc’d on, or if they go into the Twitter land and get a direct message between people that brings it close to him, he staked everything on absolute truthfulness today, Mark Steyn.

MS: Yeah, yeah, no, and you want to make sure that there is nothing out there, that there isn’t, somebody, as you say, somebody hasn’t got something that he was blind copied on, and that’s sitting around somewhere in his inbox that shows this got close to him.

HH: Yeah, think about Facebook posts.

MS: So in other words, that was the effective, well, the thing about that is, that’s why it’s effective. It’s effective as long as it holds up. And so if it was a truthful, sincere two hour performance, then he is probably in the clear for that.

HH: Now given where I am, I have to play cut number 12, Duane:

RN: My fellow Americans, I come before you tonight as a candidate for the vice presidency, and as a man whose honesty and integrity has been questioned. Now the usual political thing to do when charges are made against you is to either ignore them or to deny them without giving details. I believe we’ve had enough of that in the United States, particularly with the present administration in Washington, D.C.

HH: All right, so Mark, that is of course the very famous Checkers speech with which Nixon saved his vice presidential nomination.

MS: Right, right.

HH: Checkeresque performance today?

MS: Well, I thought, I always loved that Nixon performance. I loved the bit where he’s going on about Pat’s good Republican cloth coat.

HH: Cloth coat.

MS: And all the rest of it. It’s a wonderful moment. Nixon had it easier. Everybody had it easier in those days, because the smoking gun would, on whatever issue it is, is between Nixon and one other person. In other words, somebody has to type a memo and pull it off the typewriter and take it down the hall to that other person. And we live in a different time, and that the problem with email, and never mind if you’re like Tweeting your private parts around like Anthony Weiner, but just the problem with email is that it goes to everyone in the world, potentially. It’s out there for everyone.

HH: I’ll be right back. Mark Steyn in a special doubleheader, early baseball edition of the Mark Steyn on the Hugh Hewitt Thursday show.

— – - –

HH: Mark, let me play for you the Chris Christie description of how he went about this four weeks ago, cut number four:

CC: I brought my senior staff together, I think about four weeks ago tomorrow, and I put to all of them one simple challenge. If there is any information that you know about the decision to close these lanes in Fort Lee, you have one hour to tell either my chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, or my chief counsel, Charlie McKenna. And I told them that in an hour, I was going to go out in a press conference, and if no one gave me other information to the contrary, that I was going to say that no one on my staff was involved in this matter. Over the course of the next hour, Kevin and Charlie interviewed each member of my senior staff, came back and reported to me that they all reported that there was no information other than what we already knew, that had been testified to by Senator Baroni…

HH: And then he went on to say cut number five:

CC: If I ever had an inkling that anyone on my staff would have been so stupid but to be involved, and then so deceitful as just to not disclose the information of their involvement to me when directly asked by their superior, and those questions were not asked, by the way, just once. They were asked repeatedly.

HH: So Mark Steyn, these are emphatic declarations of purposeful intent to get to the bottom of it.

MS: Right.

HH: And refreshing, compared to the vanishing act that Hillary played on the night of Benghazi, or the Rose Garden press conference where we parsed the word terrorism after Benghazi. That’s why on a political level, I think this helped him a lot today.

MS: Yeah, that did. And not to, I mean, in a sense, I don’t think you can compare sort of municipal traffic control with an outrageous infliction of, in effect, I think a small scale military defeat on the United States in Benghazi. But you can certainly compare it with something, for example, like the National Park Service closures.

HH: Yes.

MS: Where there were petty, politically-motivated closures of public facilities. And if you remember the World War II veterans kicking the barricades down to get to their war memorial, you know, Obama isn’t a big enough man to actually stand up at the podium and say I’ve called the director of the National Park Service in, and I’ve told him I want the names of the idiots who were responsible for that, and there’s going to be action about it. So one has to assume that this is the truth Chris Christie is telling here, and he’s being honest, because no one would be that declarative about it if there’s incriminating emails lying around.

HH: And then comes perhaps what will be the most quoted excerpt for a long time to come, cut number eight:

CC: I am not a focus-group tested, blow-dried candidate or governor. Now that has always made some people, as you know, uneasy. Some people like that style, some people don’t. And I’ve always said, I think you asked me a question the day after the election, are you willing to change your style in order to appeal to a broader audience. And I think I said no, because I am who I am, but I am not a bully.

HH: I am not a bully, Mark Steyn. That’s reminiscent of I am not a crook.

MS: It is reminiscent of that. I would say just to come back to where we came in, it may well be the case that Chris Christie is an authentic, up front, non-blow dried, non-focus grouped politician. That may well be true. But the lesson, the bigger lesson of this is that there’s a kind of permanent political class of operatives who regardless of the front man at the top of the pyramid are carrying on, pulling a whole lot of stunts, regardless of whether it’s a focus-grouped, blow-dried phony politician at the top of the pyramid or Mr. Authentic, like Chris Christie. And that gets, I think, to an interesting question about American politics, is what’s the point of having a super authentic candidate if he just hires the same old lousy campaign operatives as everybody else? One of the guys involved in this scandal is well known here in New Hampshire. He was Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien…

HH: Yeah, he was thrown from the bridge today.

MS: Yeah, and he’s well known around New Hampshire primary circles, because he was with the Bush campaign in 2000, and the McCain and Giuliani campaigns. And that’s the thing. You know, it’s not just about having a super authentic, non-blow dried candidate, but actually having people of integrity lower down in the operation, too.

HH: Great point. One more Christie quote, cut number ten:

CC: I said earlier, John, I’m heartbroken about it. And I’m incredibly disappointed. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the angry stage, yet, but I’m sure I’ll get there. But I’m just stunned. And what does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask about me what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me?

HH: Now Mark, that goes exactly to what you just said.

MS: Yes.

HH: If you hire from the same gene pool, you’re going to get the same genetic characteristics.

MS: Well, and I think he’s also making the point there that he is the chief executive. And there were people around him who obviously thought this was something he would like, at a certain level, thought this is something he would like them to do. In a sense, it’s you know, who will rid me of this turbulent Fort Lee mayor.

HH: (laughing)

MS: And that was his, that’s basically what’s going on, isn’t it?

HH: Yes (laughing). That’s exactly…

MS: And he’s, and so he’s kind of acknowledging there that there’s something wrong in an environment in which someone, somewhere down the chain, thinks that this is something, this is a stunt that the governor would like them to pull.

HH: Does he have to go on his knees in the snow across the George Washington Bridge and wait for a couple of hours? I think that’s what Henry II did, didn’t he? Isn’t that what he did?

MS: That’s right. Yeah, yeah.

HH: Okay, last question. The media today drove me crazy. We’ve got about a minute left. They wouldn’t ask obvious things like what did Mary Pat say and what did she advise you. They wouldn’t ask about the DM’s and the emails. They wouldn’t ask fact-based questions that move investigations forward. What did you make of the media today?

MS: Yeah, no, I think this is always the way, and I think this is why press conferences generally, whether they’re good or bad, is entirely to do with the ability of the politician, because the media in this country just stick to these sort of generalized emotional questions. The way you nail a politician, whether it’s Chris Christie or Obama or anyone is to zero in on sharp, short, fact-based questions. And these people were too self-indulgent to do any of that.

HH: Wonderful double header with Mark Steyn, thank you, Mark. Read everything Mark writes at www.steynonline.com.

End of interview.

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