Bridge mess threatens GOP moderate


Bizarre and outrageous as it is, the notion that political appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey engineered a huge traffic jam to get even with a local mayor would not normally dominate national news. What sets apart the multiday backup in September in Fort Lee, N.J., is that those who allegedly plotted it are close to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, the best-liked possible candidate of any party.

But the scandal that threatens Christie’s prospects — and forced him to explain himself in a lengthy news conference Thursday — is of interest for another reason, too: what the governor represents in U.S. politics. For all of his operatic and imperious ways, Christie was the leading centrist within a GOP that is listing dangerously right. All Americans have an interest in the survival of a moderate wing. We certainly didn’t agree with everything Christie did during his first term. Still, his record reflects an admirable streak of independence.

He made a start toward recompense Thursday by apologizing, firing a deputy chief of staff who, he says, concealed her knowledge of the scheme from him, ousting his top political aide and promising to cooperate with state and federal investigations. In denying any knowledge of the alleged plot, Christie staked his future on a claim of ignorance that many find implausible and that amounts to a plea that he failed as a supervisor. No evidence contradicts Christie’s version; if it’s a lie, it’s an unfathomably reckless one.

Still, the investigations need to proceed. If his subordinates didn’t act with Christie’s knowledge or approval, what did motivate them? If the questions can be answered satisfactorily, Christie may survive to carry the flag for the center-right. If not, he’ll have to make way for someone else.