Prank is hugely damaging for Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looks over his shoulder during an event in Newark (3 September 2013) Image copyright Reuters

Many think he is the only one with the personality, the charisma to do the job - and his track record in reaching people who would never normally dream of voting Republican is proved by his two victories in normally Democrat New Jersey.

But he's loathed by conservatives in his own party for his bipartisan ways, and feared by Democrats for more obvious reasons.

Both will seize on anything that will damage him. And this isn't just anything.

Part of his appeal is his no-nonsense confrontational style. Supporters delight in posting his clashes with hecklers on YouTube. Some say it smacks of bullying.

So when it appears his staff gleefully, childishly, dangerously set out to punish a political opponent at the expense of ordinary people, it strikes a chord.

Even if he can prove his contention that he knew absolutely nothing about their folly, the suspicion will linger that they must have thought if he knew, he'd approve.

The whiff of "who will rid me of this turbulent priest" is strong, hundreds of years after followers of Henry II murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket in the cathedral.

Few would want a White House where such potentially deadly bullying pranks were considered a bit of fun.

This will haunt Mr Christie, to his opponents' delight.

This scandal is hugely damaging - if not yet fatal - for Christie's ambitions to be the Republican contender for president in 2016.