You know the worst sign for Chris Christie about Bridgegate? The line most of his conservative defenders (and not all conservatives are defending him) are taking isn’t really about the scandal at all. Here’s John Podhoretz at the New York Post:

Most government scandals involve the manipulation of the system in obscure ways by people no one has ever heard of. That is why George Washington Bridgegate is nearly a perfect scandal — because it is comprehensible and (as they say in Hollywood) “relatable” to everyone who has ever been in a car. This is the reason this one is not going to go away so easily, even if one accepts the contention that Gov. Chris Christie had nothing whatsoever to do with it….

And yet, you know what is also something everybody would find “relatable”? Politicians who sic the tax man on others for political gain. Everybody has to deal with the IRS and fears it. Last year, we learned from the Internal Revenue Service itself that it had targeted ideological opponents of the president for special scrutiny and investigation — because they were ideological opponents.

That’s juicy, just as Bridgegate is juicy. It’s something we can all understand, it speaks to our greatest fears, and it’s the sort of thing TV newspeople could gab about for days on end without needing a fresh piece of news to keep it going.

And yet, according to Scott Whitlock of the Media Research Center, “In less than 24 hours, the three networks have devoted 17 times more coverage to a traffic scandal involving Chris Christie than they’ve allowed in the last six months to Barack Obama’s Internal Revenue Service controversy.”

Why? Oh, come on, you know why. Christie belongs to one political party. Obama belongs to the other. You know which ones they belong to. And you know which ones the people at the three networks belong to, too: In surveys going back decades, anywhere from 80% to 90% of Washington’s journalists say they vote Democratic.

In debates from schoolyards to the presidential campaign trail, this is what used to be called a “so’s your old man” argument. It’s not a defense at all, but rather a counter-complaint suggesting that we ought to be talking about something else, or that the perpetrators of one forgotten offense should be brought to justice along with those we’re talking about.

The classic right-wing “so’s your old man” argument was enapsulated in the bumper sticker that sprouted up when Ted Kennedy ran for president shortly after prominently criticizing the policies and practices that led to the Three Mile Island nuclear spill: “No one died at Three Mile Island,” an unsubtle reference Chappaquiddick.

So never mind that the IRS “scandal” has been largely discredited as a scandal at all, or that its “victims” were not New Jersey motorists commuting to work but political activists trying to get a tax subsidy and the power to cloak donors–it’s part of the permanent conservative grievance list and involved alleged abuse of government power, so out it comes again!

That should be cold comfort to Chris Christie, being involved in the lesser of scandals. But that’s the best he can expect from conservative gabbers who don’t really want to help him other than as the enemy of their enemy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.