Chris Christie: “I am not a bully.” Not His Call to Make.
As I write this, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has just finished a press conference to explain why he’s not at fault for last year’s George Washington Bridge toll lane closures that created nightmare commutes and endangered public safety for the citizens of Fort Lee, NJ. As you may have read, emails have surfaced that prove that lieutenants of Christie engineered the lane closures in retaliation for the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee not endorsing the reelection of the Republican governor. The smoking gun was an email from Christie’s deputy chief of staff to his former campaign manager who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The story has been brewing for months now and, as has been his M.O. as governor, Christie recently blew off questions about it with jokes that implied people were stupid for even asking about it. Once the emails came out this week that proved that some of his top staffers were behind the closures, Christie expressed his “outrage” that this kind of thing had gone on.
There were a lot of notable moments in Christie’s press conference. One was when he talked about the “abject stupidity” of his just fired deputy chief of staff. Another was when he said, “I am not a bully.”
Alas, if you have to declare you’re not a bully, you probably are.
It’s one of those situations where how other people perceive you carries more weight than how you perceive yourself. Christie has a history of shouting people down in public and calling people who don’t agree with him various forms of stupid. When you’re in a position of authority that kind of behavior seems to qualify as bullying.
Bullies in positions of authority often trip themselves up. With the GW Bridge story, Christie has shown three ways that they do:
Reaping What They Sow: In his press conference, Christie said he had no prior knowledge of his staff’s involvement in the GWB lane closures until he read about it in a news story this week. That’s a little hard to swallow but even if it’s true, Christie is responsible and is reaping what he sowed. Leaders establish the culture in their organizations. His staff wouldn’t have done what they did unless they thought their boss would like it. (Also, you have to wonder what kind of staff Christie will attract in the future when candidates consider how quickly and forcefully he threw some long-termers with him under the bus when the heat was on.)
Hubris: Christie has built a lot of momentum since he took a bipartisan approach with President Obama in responding to Superstorm Sandy in 2012. A few months before the storm, he gave a keynote at the Republican National Convention where he talked at length about all he’s accomplished in New Jersey and barely mentioned the nominee, Mitt Romney. For the past year, the discussion has been all about his front runner status for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. “Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Generating Ill Will: The silence of people rushing to defend Christie has been deafening. The Germans have a word called schadenfreude. It means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. There’s likely a lot of that going on in NJ and national GOP circles today. It’s rare when people rush to help a bully who finds himself in trouble.
In an age when bullying behavior is so easily exposed and universally frowned upon, why would any leader think that being a bully is a strategy for long term success?