By Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- The scandal involving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could harm the entire Republican Party (GOP), if the party's top pick for the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections cannot put the controversy behind him, experts said.
At issue is whether the governor can survive a scandal whereby his administration allegedly orchestrated the closure of two lanes of the George Washington Bridge to neighboring New York City, causing major traffic jams, in an effort to punish a local New Jersey mayor for not endorsing his re-election bid.
In response, Christie fired his top aide allegedly responsible for the plot and the usually bombastic governor appeared apologetic at a news conference last week.
Some experts said Christie's two-hour press briefing last Thursday was a wise move, wearing down reporters and allowing them to ask any and all questions on their minds in a bid to put the scandal behind him as soon as possible.
If the controversy sticks, however, it could amount to a setback for Republicans. "If Christie's ambitions are fatally wounded, it could hurt the party at large," Christopher J. Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua.
That's because a sidelined Christie would make more likely the nomination of a more socially conservative candidate whose rhetoric would run counter to efforts to appeal to more women and Hispanics, two groups that 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost, Galdieri argued.
Indeed, after losing the 2012 presidential elections, the GOP has sought to reform its image into one that is more inclusive of women and minorities and reflects a modern, multi-cultural America.
Christie has been appealing to the GOP establishment -- northeastern moderates, fiscal conservatives, Wall Street and corporate leaders -- in part because they've seen him as someone who is right on the issues they care about and is charismatic enough to win a national election, Galdieri said.
"So particularly for these individuals, if Christie cannot put the bridge closing scandal behind him they'll need to look elsewhere," he said, pointing to Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich as two possibilities. "But neither of those figures is likely to excite primary voters the way Christie did."
The 2016 election's outcome will largely be driven by the state of the country -- whether the economy is growing or in recession, whether the employment picture is improving or not and whether there's a major scandal or foreign policy blunder, he said.
"If times are good it would be difficult for any Republican to win," he said, as voters would credit U.S. President Barack Obama' s Democratic Party if the economy is faring well by the end of his term. "If times are tough, a Republican wouldn't need Christie's charisma to win," Galdieri said.
Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute, told Xinhua it is too early to say how the scandal will play out, citing last week's Pew Research poll released Monday which found that few Americans were paying attention to the issue.
"There will be investigations going forward and should nothing else that is damaging come out, I think he is still well positioned if he decides to run," she said.