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Even Richard Nixon’s aides knew better than to sabotage traffic

In this Dec. 1, 2013 file aerial photo, the tollbooth lanes, lower left, lead to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. Many people have known little about Fort Lee until a political scandal centering on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enveloped the borough. Now for residents of the New York City bedroom community defined by both a feisty pride and frustration over the mixed blessings of proximity to the George Washington Bridge, the scandal is the reminder they did not need of how the bridge dictates the rhythm of everyday life. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Republican Governor Chris Christie has apologized to the people of Fort Lee, NJ, now that a series of emails seems to show his aides deliberately sabotaged traffic on the local on-ramp to the George Washington Bridge last fall to punish the mayor for not supporting his campaign.

He immediately fired the deputy chief of staff who wrote the email that said “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

“I terminated her employment because she lied to me,” said Gov. Christie in a press conference Thursday.

And he knows how toxic this is. Voters will put up with a lot, but deliberately sabotaging traffic? Even Richard Nixon’s aides knew better than to pull something like that.

And to those critics who are already wondering aloud how he could not know this was going on, “I was being lead to believe by folks around me that there was no basis to this. But I was wrong,” said Christie.

From my own limited experience as a candidate I can understand his situation.

Political aides tend to be the swashbuckling type; fiercely loyal to the boss.

Their mindset: nice guys finish second, and second equals last. And your candidate may be a paragon of virtue, but all that’s wasted if he doesn’t win.

Which … I didn’t.

So the question for Chris Christie is not whether he would ever authorize such a thing. There’s no way a politician at his level would do anything that dumb, not even in New Jersey.

The question should be whether he set a clear standard for his staff up front that this is not a win-at-any-cost campaign – that there is a line you never cross.

It’s easy to assume your staff knows where to draw that line until the day you wake up to find they drew it across the approach to the George Washington Bridge.

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