Before Ray Donovan, the fictional Hollywood fix-it man seen on Showtime, there was Raymond J. Donovan, the Reagan-era Labor secretary.
It’s been nearly 30 years since Donovan held that cabinet post. While he’s mostly forgotten, one thing he said endures. It came after Donovan had stood trial for larceny and fraud charges in connection with a New York subway-contracting scheme – in all, a two-and-a-half year legal ordeal. Given his New Jersey labor roots and the fact that the Mafia allegedly was complicit, the press presumed Donovan’s guilt.
Only, he was acquitted.
After which, Donovan uttered these words: “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”
Which brings us to another son of New Jersey looking to restore his luster: Gov. Chris Christie.
Buried under an onslaught of bad press over a state government scandal involving the shutdown of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge (aka, “Bridgegate”), Christie last week tried to turn the corner on his troubles – and turn the tables on a press corps that’s all but written his political obituary.
First, Christie released the findings of an internal review (here’s the report, in its entirety) conducted by attorneys of the governor’s choosing – five of them, former federal prosecutors.
Second, Christie mounted a media mini-offensive – “mini” in the sense that it’s hard to get on cable these days unless you have an opinion about Putin’s motives, Obamacare’s efficacy, or the fate of the Malaysian jetliner.
Finally, Christie literally put New Jersey behind him – hopping a plane to Las Vegas for a cattle call of 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls. And while he was out west: on to Utah to raise money for the Republican Governors Association (Christie being the RGA’s chair in the 2014 election cycle).
Here are three takeaways from Christie’s roll-out/roll-on:
The Media Aren’t Letting Go. This sniffing New York Times headline sums it up: “Inquiry Is Said to Clear Christie, But That’s His Lawyers’ Verdict”. While the internal review gave Christie a clean bill of health, there’s still a legislative investigation (fraught with partisan overtones, such as this call for Christie to testify under oath) and a federal probe led by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held before being elected governor of the Garden State in 2009. As long as there are investigations and allegations and camera-posing, the media will stay on the hunt – fueled by polls like this one, showing the scandal and media dog pile have damaged Christie’s veracity.
Christie Isn’t Losing His Place (in Line). Why did New Jersey’s governor travel to Las Vegas and an audience with Sheldon Adelson? It wasn’t to blow off steam by hitting the casinos (it’s only a 90-minute drive from Trenton to Atlantic City). Rather, Christie wanted to make sure he remains in the mix of Republican governors – present and past – all with an eye on 2016 and all selling a variation of the same message: “I’m an executive; I’m an adult; I’ve made tough calls; look at my record”. This explains Christie’s presence in Vegas at the annual spring gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition – joined at the same meeting by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida ex-Gov. Jeb Bush.
A Ray (Donovan) of Hope? What if the legislative inquiry and federal probe ultimately clear Christie of any malfeasance, other than perhaps his managerial style? Could/should Christie stand on the steps on the state house in Trenton – or Des Moines or Concord – and demand his reputation back? On the one hand, he may never have that luster restored – a media presumption of guilt doesn’t always go away; sometimes, it spills over into profiles and candidacy assessments. Then again, it could also benefit Christie by providing a role to which he’s unaccustomed: victim. Christie received a standing ovation at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference – historically, unfriendly environs. Why the praise? Yes, Christie threw red meat to the crowd. But he’s also found a new common ground with conservatives: media bias.
Is that enough to get Christie his party’s nomination? It can’t hurt. Then again, overcoming the damage from rush to judgment and and media overkill may prove to be a bridge too far.
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen