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First Thoughts: Forget 2016, Christie's top goal now is saving his governorship

Forget 2016, Christie’s top goal now is saving his governorship… When the response (attacking Wildstein) is worse than the revelation you’re responding to… Guess who’s coming to CPAC… DNC spikes the football against Christie in new web video… Recapping Obama vs. O’Reilly… And McDonough on immigration and Keystone.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (second from front) departs City Hall in Fort Lee, New Jersey January 9, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

*** Forget 2016, Christie’s top goal now is saving his governorship:  After the last 72 hours of new developments in the scandals hitting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, the political story here is no longer about whether Christie can survive to be a top presidential contender in 2016. Rather, it’s about whether he’ll be able to hold on to his governorship. For starters, former Christie Port Authority aide David Wildstein is now saying -- through his lawyer -- that “evidence exists” that Christie had knowledge of the lane closings in Fort Lee, NJ. Given that Wildstein appears eager to cooperate with investigators and tell his own story, who else follows suit? Former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly? Anyone else? It’s looking like it will be every man and woman for him/herself. (Wildstein didn’t produce any evidence, but he’s clearly in survival mode for himself. And that has to have the Christie folks in a mini panic, because who else could break?) In addition to Wildstein (and maybe others) talking, New Jersey lawmakers will start getting their hands on new subpoenaed documents as early as today. The New York Times: “On Monday, the first of what are most likely thousands of pages of documents subpoenaed by the State Legislature from prominent members of the Christie administration were to be turned over to investigators.” And finally, none of these new developments even touch on the other scandal rocking the administration -- the allegation from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (D) that Hurricane Sandy relief money was tied to her city’s approval of a private development project the governor’s office wanted.

*** When the response is worse than the revelation you’re responding to: Team Christie’s reaction to Wildstein might have been worse than Wildstein’s actual revelation. In a memo released on Saturday, Team Christie said this about Wildstein:

-- “As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election.
-- “He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.
-- “He had a controversial tenure as Mayor of Livingston
-- “He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge
-- “He had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people's names without telling them”

Attacking your accuser allows you to live another day, but it doesn’t help people believe your story. Bottom line: When you’re attacking the press or bringing up things that someone did when in high school, you are usually losing. And by the way, while Team Christie is now attacking Wildstein (“David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein”), it’s worth pointing out that they PRAISED him after he resigned his post in the wake of growing scrutiny over the Fort Lee lane closures. “Mr. Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said Mr. Wildstein had been a ‘tireless advocate’ for the state’s interests during his time at the Port Authority. ‘We are grateful for his commitment and dedication to the important work of the Port Authority and thank him for his service to the people of New Jersey and the region,’ Mr. Drewniak said in a statement.” Perhaps coming down hard on Wildstein is meant to send a message to anyone else who might be tempted to go public against the governor???

*** But guess who’s coming to CPAC: NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell confirms the news that Christie will speak at next month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event when he wasn’t invited last year. CPAC organizers defended the 2013 snub saying he wasn’t a conservative all-star back then. “CPAC is to conservative politics what all-star games are to professional athletes,” American Conservative Union head Al Cardenas said at the time. “[In 2012], he strongly advocated for the passage of a $60+ billion pork barrel bill, containing only $9 billion in disaster assistance and he signed up with the federal government to expand Medicaid at a time when his state can ill afford it, so he was not invited to speak.” Cardenas added, “Hopefully he will be back in top form next year. We would be delighted to invite him again in that case.” Talk about odd timing. But with the CPAC crowd, a Republican being under siege -- and the media attention that comes with it -- could be something of a positive. Enemy of my enemy is my friend, we guess. And if Christie is complaining about media attention, he’ll find plenty of allies at CPAC.

*** DNC spikes the football against Christie: Meanwhile, the DNC is up with a new web video on Christie that -- almost literally -- spikes the ball in the end zone. But as the saying goes, when your enemy is destroying himself, stay far, far away. We’re surprised Democrats want to contribute to the politics right now.

*** Obama vs. O’Reilly: Before last night’s Super Bowl, President Obama and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly clashed over questions about the 2012 Benghazi attack, the IRS scandal, and the botched health-care rollout, NBC’s Tom Curry writes. The New York Times adds that the president’s answers to the questions “shed little if any new light on some of the most controversial moments of Mr. Obama’s presidency, but it was a feisty 10-minute encounter that exposed the different world views of Mr. Obama and some of his sharpest critics,” who make up a large portion of O’Reilly’s audience. It was an interview that seemed designed to appeal to the O’Reilly viewer.  Obama on whether he should have fired HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after the health-care rollout: “My main priority right now is making sure that it delivers for the American people,” later adding: “I try to focus not on the fumbles, but on the next play.” On whether there was corruption inside the IRS: “There were some boneheaded decisions... Not even a smidgen of corruption.” Perhaps the biggest contrast of the day? Here was this question from O’Reilly: “I got a letter from Kathy ___— Mr. President why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform a nation?" Compare that with this question NBC’s David Gregory asked White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough: “It seemed like a smaller State of the Union, that his agenda is smaller, a shrinking presidency. Last year he talked about gun control, talked about climate change, remaking the health care system. Has he gone small?”  So which is it? Is Obama pushing transformation? Or is he playing small ball?  Talk about contrasting world views.

*** McDonough on immigration: “We feel pretty good that we’ll get a bill done this year”: Also on “Meet the Press” yesterday, McDonough signaled that the White House will give House GOP leaders as much room as they want on immigration. “[T]he principles that were laid out by the Republican leadership towards the end of last week, we think that's a pretty good step, pretty good progress in this debate, coming from where they were to where they are now,” McDonough said. “Our job is to step back, let this debate happen in the House.  And we'll obviously continue to press for our principles. The House Democrats will, as well.  And we feel pretty good that we'll get a bill done this year.” The president essentially said the same thing to CNN last week.

*** McDonough on Keystone: State report isn’t the final word: McDonough also cautioned that Friday’s State Department report on the Keystone pipeline – which concluded that the project would have a minimal impact on the environment – wouldn’t be the final word on the matter. “ We have one department with a study. Now we have other expert agencies, the E.P.A., and many others, who have an opportunity-- the Energy Department, an opportunity to look at this and make their determinations. The president wants to protect their ability to do that, make this decision based on the best analysis and most sound science.” McDonough’s comment came across as moving the goalposts, since the so much had been hanging on the State study. But the White House claims others always were going to have to chime in before any final decision was made. But politically, the White House is stuck in no man’s land on this issue, giving enviros hope they’ll stop this, giving Democrats in red states more lines of attack and giving Republicans an issue to claim the president isn’t abiding by his own “all of the above” energy policy. One would think, no matter the decision, the White House would want to rip off the political band aid sooner rather than later. But this process is dragging on, which will likely mean more TV ads targeting Kerry from the left, targeting Obama on both sides and even hitting some Dems in red states.

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