Why GOP's Attempts to Divert Attention from #Bridgegate Won't Work


Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal is real, and his allies in the Republican party know it. And because they know it, they have embarked on a painstaking process to divert attention towards President Obama by bringing up the old chestnuts of Benghazi and the IRS. There is only one problem with their latest shiny-object diversion: it won't work.

It won't work because of two reasons: the first is the substantive difference between the Republican-manufactured Obama "scandals" and the very real Christie scandal. The second is political.


The Politics: On Benghazi and IRS, everything has been said, and everybody has said it.

The political reason will take less space to explain, so let's take that one first. Politically, when Republicans trumped up fake scandals on Benghazi and IRS, they did it a bit too early. Sure, I'll give Darrell Issa the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had no idea that Bridgegate was brewing under the surface just as he was making a complete fool out of himself in Congressional hearings about Benghazi and the IRS. Not only did the political attempts fall flat on their face - most famously immortalized by Secretary Clinton owning Republican members of the House and Senate as they tried to rattle her - the trumped up charges are also old.

Politically, on Benghazi and the IRS, the Right is essentially a victim of its own media success. When they thought they could get mileage out of these charges, they so saturated the media with coverage and focus that everyone who cares has heard the charges and already made their political judgments - for or against. The Republicans aren't saying anything that can change their minds now.

But perhaps most damningly, the references to IRS and Benghazi are in fact likely to hurt the Republicans on Bridgegate. The framing is very poor for the Right. For the Left, the references don't matter, and are an obvious attempt to divert. But for the Right, who already believe (contrary to fact) that Benghazi and IRS are impeachment-worthy scandals, comparing Bridgegate to those charges only serve to engrave in their minds that it too rises to the level of an impeachment-worthy scandal. It does not have to be pronounced and spelled out. The Right's pundits are telling their people basically: "this is just like Benghazi." Umm, from their frame of reference, why's that a good thing again?

Conversely, if they are making the case that Bridgegate isn't a big deal because "this is just like Benghazi" (or marginally different from it), then they are unwittingly making the case that Benghazi and IRS situations weren't big deals either, entirely contrary to the case they want to make.

Rule one in the art of scandal diversion: you do not bring up other events you consider a scandal.

The Substance: This is where the GOP is really screwed.

While the right wing pundit's politics are out of whack on this, it's the substance that drowns their ship. First of all, there were no real political scandals in Benghazi or with the IRS. Investigations have confirmed not only that there was no scandal - security, political or otherwise other than the fact that Republicans in Congress refused to provide embassies with the funding the Administration requested - but also that the primary account given by administration officials in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi consulate attacks were largely accurate.

Even as the Senate Intelligence Committee called the attack preventable this week, its findings plainly stated that the attacks were "not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic," confirming the administration account. There was no cover-up, there was no corruption, and even if there were failure of communications or intelligence, there was no scandal.

The case is much the same with the IRS. The story that IRS "targeted" only right wing groups in their tax exempt status was proven false in subsequent reporting that in the aftermath of the campaign cash floodgates being opened by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the IRS targeted both Left and Right wing ideological groups masquerading as "non-profits" and seeking tax exempt status under overwhelming workload just as Republicans were intent on reducing their staff. Not a single conservative group was ultimately denied this status; only a liberal group was. Furthermore, it is the IRS' job under the law ensure that organizations we subsidize as a people by making them tax exempt serve the community, not pursue a political agenda.

Once again, with respect to the IRS, the only "scandal" was trumped up by the political right and Fox News. In reality, there was no corruption, no cover-up, no scandal, no falsehoods, and most importantly no ultimate damage. No one ended up dead because of IRS' application review procedures, more than can be said about Bridgegate.

Chris Christie's Bridgegate is a real and palpable example of his and his administration's corruption, bullying tactics, and disregard for the people he serves as well as the law. Bridgegate wasn't a mistake. It wasn't an accident. It wasn't a failure. It was a planned execution of punishment as political retribution. When a one-liner email sets into motion a disastrous sequence of events that closes lanes on an interstate bridge, it's not sudden. It's well-planned, well thought out beforehand, and executed to the tee. And it isn't an isolated incident. It was part of a pattern of abuse of power, corruption, and political bullying of and retribution against cities whose elected representatives refused to get on the Christie bandwagon.

And it's not done. Each day, each week, each investigation is going to bring us new evidence of Christie's corruption. The door has only been cracked open so far. Subpoenas are going out for Christie aids, and Christie himself is lawyering up.

Chis Christie can claim continued ignorance of his close aids performing acts of political revenge to benefit him, and he can continue to keep the focus on how much he - rather than the people of New Jersey - was hurt by their actions coming to light. But that defies belief for a reason: no one believes that Chris Christie is an innocent lamb.

The substantive difference between Bridgegate and Benghazi and IRS come down to this: Bridgegate is a real political corruption scandal, the others are not. And no amount of Republican whining on television is going to fix that.