For seven straight days, Chris Matthews and his Hardball guests have hyperbolically compared Chris Christie's bridge scandal in New Jersey to the constitutional crisis that ended Richard Nixon's presidency. On every single program since January 8, Matthews and guests have linked last fall's traffic jam to Watergate. On Thursday, GOP strategist John Feehery reminded, "They're completely different...There were high crimes and misdemeanor with President Nixon." The MSNBC journalist responded, "Wait, a break-in was worse than this?" [MP3 audio here.]
On January 8, the day the scandal erupted, Matthews immediately jumped to the comparison, muttering, "Nixonian. It's so Nixonian." On January 9, while talking about Christie's innocence or guilt, the host connected, "...When people say they feel sorry for the Watergate people....Their lives were ruined. I always say I got a worse one for you -- they got away with it."
On January 10, Matthews theorized, "I grew up during Watergate. I got to tell you, it follows a certain pattern."
For the January 15 program, the cable anchor fixated, "Well, this is not yet a Watergate, but the more we learn about Chris Christie, the more he does look like Richard Nixon."
On January 13 and 14, Matthews played clips of others making the comparison.
The host on Thursday again made his favorite comparison, promoting it as an "interesting parallel." Matthews showed a chart of Nixon's slow drop in popularity and connected: "Everything was great, until the evidence came in. Now, Christie can do all the campaigning and showboating he wants, I will argue, but then again, he might as well, because he is going down anyway."
Appearing on the show, Republican strategist Feehery shot back: "Bridgegate is no Watergate. They're completely different."
A surprised Matthews wondered, "What, a break-in was worse than this?"
Feehery patiently explained, "Traffic is annoying. Doing something to the Constitution is really kind of breaking the law."
A partial transcript of the January 16 segment is below:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: And in this case, I think it is going to come down to what happens in court. And I want to -- you talk about this. And then I'm going to tell you what happened to Nixon, because it's a very interesting parallel.
MATTHEWS: Christie, by the way, might be able to weather the political storm, but he can't escape evidence. If you want proof, take a look at President Nixon's approval ratings during Watergate. This is fascinating. In June of'72, the Watergate break-in took place. It was five months before Nixon's 49-state reelection victory over McGovern. For five months, the guy was floating high after the Watergate break- in and exposure of his people. That scandal didn't burst his approval ratings until much, much later. In January of'73, the following year, two of Nixon's aides were convicted of conspiracy, which started the real political downfall of Nixon. Nixon's approval ratings then tanked, going from 67 percent in the beginning of'73 down to 24 percent when he had to resign in'74.
So Nixon was able to bluff it. He had the POWs coming home. He won the -- the war was over. Everything was great, until the evidence came in. Now, Christie can do all the campaigning and showboating he wants, I will argue, but then again, he might as well, because he is going down anyway. He might as well have a good time.
JOHN FEEHERY: Bridgegate is no Watergate. They're completely different.
MATTHEWS: Road Hog. Operation Road Hog.
FEEHERY: I hear you.
MATTHEWS: Bridgegate is so boring.
MATTHEWS: Operation Road Hog.
FEEHERY: There were high crimes and misdemeanor with President Nixon.
MATTHEWS: What, a break-in was worse than this? If you were in that traffic, would you rather have a break- in or --
FEEHERY: Traffic is annoying. Doing something to the Constitution is really kind of breaking the law.