Steve Colbert, on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, pointed out this odd juxtaposition in Chris Christie's confessional press conference following the George Washington Bridge scandal. Christie said his staff is like his family, so that he was "heartbroken" that someone "betrayed my trust." That someone was Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who wrote the e-mail, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," words that will go down in political infamy. (NOBODY in New Jersey politics thinks that Kelly woke up one morning—the e-mail was sent before 8 am—and decided for herself to block traffic to the George Washington Bridge. But more about that later.)
And, so, he sent family member Bridget—with whom he spent every work day and all of his political travel time, as well as texting, phoning, and e-mailing her constantly while they were apart—packing, while anouncing to the world the "abject stupidity" of her behavior. Oh, he never spoke another word to her after the e-mail came out, for either a goodbye or an explanation. And, it would seem, Christie figures he'll never talk to Bridget Kelly again.
You'd do that to a close family member, right?
But Kelly is not really the political casualty whose demise New Jersey politicos are most intrigued by. That person is Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager for his two incredibly successful New Jersey Gubernatorial campaigns. Bill Stepien (that's his picture) was a young political operative destined for the very big time. Christie had just appointed Stepien (on Tuesday) to head the state GOP, which put him on the Republican National Committee, which steers the party nationwide. Christie had also previously appointed Stepien as a consultant to the powerful Republican Governors Association, of which Christie had just become the head. It was assumed Stepien would lead Christie's presidential bid, putting him in the most elite political insider category (think Karl Rove). Christie announced at his press conference that he had removed Stepien from these positions.
Gone. All over. He'll never rise to those levels again.
Stepien was considered a brilliant —if vicious—political operative, the author of Christie's many punishments of New Jersey political figures who dared to disagree publicly with Christie or who opposed his policies. EVERYBODY thinks Stepien was behind the Fort Lee-Bridge fiasco. Former Jersey Governor Tom Kean called Stepien Christie’s "alter ego in many ways." Stepien also traveled with Christie's family and inner staff to Israel, on what was considered to be Christie's announcement of his presence on the international stage. At the press conference, Christie said: "There’s no doubt that Bill has been one of my closest advisers over the last five years so for that, too, I am sad today to have to take this action."
Let's summarize. Your political family is as close to you as your real family—closer in terms of time spent working and making decisions together, and sometimes in terms of actual emotional intimacy. But when they become a liability, they're gone in a second, without a second thought.
What does this mean? It could mean that politicians—or people—see EVERYONE as transactional players who can be jettisoned and replaced in the blink of an eye. Sayonara.
It could mean that Christie will be left rudderless. Stepien went around the state and the country organizing the town hall meetings that were the heart of Christie's self-presentations and national—worldwide—image.
And oh, gosh, doesn't Stepien know where every, single body Christie buried is?
Order Stanton's new book, with Ilse Thompson, Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program