Steven Walters
The State of Politics

How Rogue Aides Can Ruin Politicians

Gov. Chris Christie’s problems are a lesson to every politician in Wisconsin.

By - Feb 10th, 2014 09:56 am
Gov . Chris Christie. Photo from the State of New Jersey.

Gov. Chris Christie. Photo from the State of New Jersey.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a reminder of this political axiom:

The most dangerous persons for an elected state official – Democrat or Republican – are often junior staffers who are dead-sure certain of what The Boss needs to know, what they think they can fix without The Boss knowing, and are dedicated to helping The Boss keep winning elections.

Christie is now reeling from decisions made by those he trusted – many of them now ex-aides – subpoenaed by Democratic legislators. The New Jersey governor insists he was never told, and didn’t know, that those aides closed George Washington Bridge lanes from Fort Lee to punish that city’s mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election.

The traffic jam stranded angry commuters, school children and those on their way to medical appointments. The controversy may or may not ruin Christie’s bid to be the Republican nominee for President in 2016.

Every elected official across the nation should learn from Christie’s example, since they all run the risk of having overzealous aides, volunteers and even interns act in ways that embarrass or ruin them.

Here’s how it happens: Your best friend from high school, college, or even elementary school stays close, and helps out you when you run for office. Or a kid, willing to do anything, shows up at your first campaign office. Or a wide-eyed college student majoring in political science wants to learn about politics firsthand, or to get a college credit or two.

They drive you to campaign or official events, make “please vote” campaign calls, take and pick up your dry cleaning, babysit your kids in an emergency, and make sure fund-raising events are a success. You end up trusting them for years, maybe decades. They are there when you make the toughest political decisions:

How do we attack our opponent? What do we leak to a friendly reporter? What position do we take on an issue that polls 50-50 back home? Who’s writing checks?  Can they give more? Why is someone not donating to us? How does this race lay the groundwork to run for the Legislature … for Congress … for Governor …for President?

If you win an election, you may find a job with a real salary and real benefits for them. Or, if they don’t get a patronage job, they remain part of your “kitchen cabinet” group of insiders.

Soon, even though they may still be in their 20s, those aides confidently know – absolutely know! – how to help you, what calls you should not take, who you should and should not meet with, and how to protect you.

You’re a Very Busy Person, after all. You can’t meet with everybody. You can’t make every decision. You have to trust somebody, so why it shouldn’t be someone who has been there from the beginning who knows all you’ve been through?

Those aides have entered the Danger Zone. They can give orders, or respond to controversies, using that “I’m speaking for The Boss” tone that commands attention.

Not only can those aides make the wrong decision, but they also decide when – and how – to act without The Boss’s knowledge, intentionally giving The Boss deniability if their decision blows up. If it blows up, they know they’re gone. History. “No longer works here.”

One more reason why those aides are especially dangerous: They are often so seduced by politics that they plan to run for office – maybe even your job, if you move up the political ladder or retire. At that point, the aide may not make the best decisions for The Boss.

Wisconsin examples?

*Four-term GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson told his campaign managers: I want to win by a bigger margin the next time that I did last time. Imagine what pressure that put on campaign managers, and those working for them.

*An aide to former GOP Gov. Scott McCallum once ordered cheap silver discs bearing McCallum’s image to give to Capitol visitors to his office. It was news to McCallum.

*Aides to Republican Gov. Scott Walker made some decisions – having Walker take a call from a liberal talk-show host pretending to be a conservative billionaire and hiring an ex-campaign worker who disparaged minorities on social media – they would like back.

But so far, none of those eager aides and their sometimes questionable decisions have hurt their boss as badly as the political wound Christie has suffered.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Email

5 thoughts on “The State of Politics: How Rogue Aides Can Ruin Politicians”

  1. David Ciepluch says:

    It is simply “shadow of the leader” effect. When you have leadership like Christe and Walker that are rotten to their core with attributes like sleaziness, lack of accountability, always blame someone else, dishonesty, fascist style of governance and totally bought off by wealth and corporations, allow the corporations to write the laws through ALEC, and total lack of respect for the citizens and workers in society, the outcome is inevitable. They hire similar staff that will behave the same way and the after-affects are a wreckage that the next administration has to clean up that takes years of wasted time and treasure. The only difference between Walker and Christe is that Christie is not afraid to put on a bully appearance facade as a tough guy, where Walker sneaks around like stealth slime and lies 77% of the time according to Politifact, and makes up the remainder of his material from his ALEC bullet talking points.

  2. Chris Byhre says:

    First of all, great job by Walters looking into Democrat aides who go rogue. You really could not find one? This type of “reporting” gets people like David in a lather, which must be the intent. You want lack of accountability? You want stealth, dishonesty and fascist style governance? Look no further then the Obama administration and the abuses of the IRS, the disaster that is Obamacare and the fact that the administration has altered an actual law 29 times without any consent of Congress. He appointed a Treasury Secretary, Geithner, who failed to pay taxes for 3 years. Eric Holder was responsible for the Fast and Furious debacle that ended up with our government selling over 1600 weapons to Mexican drug cartels and in the death of one of our own law enforcement officials. The Department of Justice failed to appoint anyone to look into the IRS targeting of Conservatives until last month when they picked a huge Obama donor, Barbara Bosserman, as head of the investigation. In the mean time they waited just a few days before appointing someone to look into a simple traffic jam in NJ. You really want to talk about sleaziness Dave? Look at your own party.

  3. David Ciepluch says:

    Fascism is a far-right wing form of governance. Anyone can look up the definition. It is being wed to corporations in running government. The definition fits what is going on in many Republican states without the defined portion of nationalism.

    The IRS should be looking into tax evasion and political action groups that have long funneled money and obtain tax deductions by corporations that manipulate politicians. I expect IRS to look for tax cheats, otherwise the deficit rises and the rest of us are left to pick up the tab. The 1950s law was clear that tax deductions are for social welfare, 501C3 organizations. This law needs to be enforced.

    The Affordable Care Act is doing what is intended, providing insurance options to millions of people that need it. The sign up was a mess that is being solved and overcome. States that have decided to participate are signing up millions of people and saving their state economies billions.

    Regarding the IRS investigations, many groups were involved and only left leaning groups were held responsible for paying taxes. Left and Right were investigated, not just Right.

    Selection of Geinthner was a huge mistake. People like him helped grease the skids for the economic crash. Obama has his fair share of Wall Street contributors and has been timid, along with Holder at going after white collar criminals.

    Bush started the Fast and Furious program. Holder had to clean up the mess by figuring what was going on.

    There have been multiple investigations by a Republican Congress that has not yielded any fraud or wrong doing on the part of the Obama Administration. Most of the Republican blather is smoke and mirrors to create an appearance and smearing of an administration.

  4. Chris Byhre says:

    Anyone can look up the definition but it takes someone like you to twist reality to fit your radical agenda. The IRS under Obama specifically targeted Conservative groups and continue to do so. To state anything else is as false as saying, ” If you like your health plan, you can keep it, If you like your doctor, you can keep him, period.” Of course that great lie was told over 25 times by Obama to sell his failed health plan. Only a lefty could say that a law that has been changed and delayed 29 times since it was enacted, is working. Obamacare actually kicked more people off of insurance then it added as of Jan 1, 2014. Now you lefties are trying to sell the American people on the idea that 2.5 million less full time jobs being vacated in the economy is liberating, and a good thing. Amazing. The gun running and the specific program where over 1600 guns were sold to Mexican drug cartels happened exclusively under Holder/Obama. The housing bubble was caused in large part by Barney Frank and Clinton when they forced lenders to give loans to people who had no business owning a house. There is no need to smear an administration as lawless as this one. The facts speak for themselves. I understand you are passionate in your views, but you need to be more truthful in order to have an actual honest debate.

  5. David Ciepluch says:

    Yes, the facts do speak for themselves as I stated. The ongoing Republican lies and distortions are mere fabrications and has been their strategy and history for decades, and like Walker and Christie, always blame and smear someone else. In regards to the intent of the article.

    Walker’s staff usually finds a jail cell as he throws them under the bus. Same as Christie is doing in his state. It speaks volumes about their true character flaws and lack of any accountability in unleashing corruption and chaos. It is simple “shadow of the leader”. Slimy people attract other slimy people of similar character and the outcomes are predictable. It is a pattern repeated throughout history.

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