Chris Matthews, always eager for hyperbolic predictions of Republican doom, on Wednesday insisted that Chris Christie's bridge scandal in New Jersey is pretty much like Richard Nixon's Watergate. Comparing a severe traffic jam to a scandal that paralyzed the United States government and brought down a President, Matthews suggested, "Well, this is not yet a Watergate, but the more we learn about Chris Christie, the more he does look like Richard Nixon." [MP3 audio here.]
To make the comparison simple, Matthews played a clip of the New Jersey Republican claiming he wasn't "a bully" and then showed a clip of Nixon famously defending, "I am not a crook." Matthews offered, "Not a crook, not a bully." The host allowed that there is "no direct evidence that ties Christie directly," but added that "the entire scandal has an eerily familiar ring, doesn't it?" The graphic for the story wondered, "Tricky Christie?"
Even Matthews's guests had, at times, trouble accepting the comparison. Liberal journalists David Corn and Howard Fineman went along with the premise of the segment, but Corn noted, "This comparison works, but you are comparing for plays for the Toledo Mud Hens to someone playing for the Yankees."
Fineman at first suggested that the similarities made Christie "exactly" like Nixon. But he then backpedaled, "Well, of course, on one level, the comparison to Nixon is ridiculous. But on... the other more important level, you have to examine a politician in the....environment they're in."
Matthews apparently doesn't listen to his own colleague. Nixon and Watergate comparisons have been mentioned on Matthews's show every day since January 8. Tom Brokaw on Wednesday morning lectured the media over their fixation on Christie: "You've got to move on, guys."
On the same Hardball show, while talking about Watergate and Nixon, Matthews totally skipped the new report saying that the terrorist attack in Benghazi was "preventable."
A partial transcript of the January 15 segment is below:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Coming up, a mean-spirited political trickster trying to run up the score in an easy reelection. Sound familiar? Well, this is not yet a Watergate, but the more we learn about Chris Christie, the more he does look like Richard Nixon. Two of the best minds in politics coming up to talk about the comparison between these two guys, Howard Fineman and David Corn. They're going to weigh in.
MATTHEWS: So far, there's been no direct evidence that ties Governor Chris Christie directly, as I said, to the lane closures at George Washington Bridge, and he's strongly denied any involvement, of course. But the entire scandal has an eerily familiar ring, doesn't it? When Christie defended himself last week, he strongly denied any wrongdoing.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: politics ain't beanbag, OK? And everybody in the country who engages in politics knows that. On the other hand, that's very, very different than saying that, you know, someone's a bully. I am who I am, but I am not a bully.
MATTHEWS: "I am not a bully." In declaring he wasn't a bully, the government echoed -- the governor echoed the words of another leader in the middle of a major scandal, of course, President Richard Nixon.
RICHARD NIXON: I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.
MATTHEWS: Not a crook, not a bully.
FINEMAN: And then he's surrounded -- and then what it is that, like Nixon, it is a prosecutor, it's a guy who became known for investigations who is now in an executive position trying to use what he learned as an investigator to protect himself in this situation. That's exactly like Nixon.
CORN: But if he -- this would make him really like Nixon. Nixon tried not to release the tapes and he tried to kill the investigations and he got the CIA involved to tell the FBI to lay off. That's why he was impeached.
FINEMAN: Well, of course, on one level, the comparison to Nixon is ridiculous. But on the other more -- the other more important level, you have to examine a politician in the –...You have to evaluate a politician in the environment they're in.