I don’t have to tell you it’s been a tough week here in the tri-state area.
Superstorm Sandy blew in, and in her wake left a trail of devastation, death, and destruction hundreds of miles wide. Inestimable damage, probably in the many billions of dollars, and lost lives dominated the news cycle for days, and millions of folks from Delaware to Rhode Island are still without power, clean water and basic services.
Subway tunnels flooded in New York City, cars, houses and trees floated away in Pennsylvania, West Virginia got nearly two feet of snow, and house fires started by downed power lines and blown transformers dotted the entire East coast. But Sandy appeared to save her most powerful punches for the Garden State, ripping the Jersey shore to shreds and taking large portions of the famous Atlantic City boardwalk with her.
Which brings us to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I have taken numerous opportunities to ridicule and mock the portly chief executive, but I have to give credit where it’s due here and say that Christie has done a stellar job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. He has shown true leadership, poise, and grit – staying awake for days despite a nasty bout of the flu, pleading with his constituents to move to higher ground, and doing all the things a strong governor does in the face of danger.
Typically, Christie went way off the Republican script. He heaped effusive praise on President Barack Obama for his prompt attention and responsiveness to New Jersey’s needs, and even praised FEMA for the speed with which the agency dispatched aid.
Christie gratefully accepted Obama’s sincere offer of assistance, and even gushed that the president gave him a private number to call at the White House to get to him immediately.
And here’s the part that elicited gasps of horror from his fellow Republicans: he did it all on Fox News, that bastion of GOP propaganda and Obama hate speech.
“I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and the people of our state,” a tired and harried-looking Christie said on Fox and Friends. “The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit. The president has been outstanding in this.”
Trying to steer the conversation toward a favorable light for GOP candidate Mitt Romney, host Steve Doocy asked Christie if Romney would come to Jersey to help out. “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” Christie growled, visibly agitated. “I have a job to do in New Jersey that is much bigger than presidential politics. I could care less about any of that stuff. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”
Christie, one of Romney’s staunchest supporters and most vocal surrogates, wasn’t throwing his candidate under the bus – the governor simply had higher priorities and bigger worries.
The problem is, Romney doesn’t.
Next Tuesday is everything for Romney – his political future, his reputation, and his standing in the party are on the line - and he’s losing. His handlers are spinning the latest polls as best they can, but in survey after survey, Obama is leading in all battleground and swing states, with only a few short days left.
Romney needed a Hail Mary, or what they call in politics an “October Surprise.” You’ve seen it happen: very near Election Day, one candidate is hit with a devastating news story or public revelation that knocks them out of the running.
He got his October surprise, all right, but the surprise was on Romney - courtesy of Mother Nature.
The president comes out looking, well, presidential – a steady hand and a cool head – putting the full weight of the government behind the victims of the devastation. Christie looks like a bipartisan leader - willing to put aside politics for the good of his constituents. Romney ends up looking like the big dope who only a few months ago promised to disband FEMA, the agency now credited as New Jersey’s savior.
Poor Mitt is left with weak photo ops of him loading canned goods onto trucks, all but useless to Sandy’s victims – while he uncomfortably dodges reporters’ questions on his previous FEMA stance – which, in keeping with his pattern of the last few weeks, he has now suddenly reversed.
Your choice this coming Tuesday is clearer than ever. You just have to go in and pull the lever.
Daryl Gale is city editor of The Philadelphia Tribune.