'Tour de force' or end of the road for Christie?

Christie: I'm tough, not a bully

Chris Christie, acting both as New Jersey governor and prospective presidential candidate, addressed the biggest crisis of his public life with a front-and-center defense that may yet help him weather the "Bridgegate" storm.

A widely watched Thursday news conference drew mixed reviews, with many of his Republican colleagues hoping he could survive the firestorm and his Democratic detractors poking holes in his story.

As the uproar shakes out, Christie's future may depend on what, if anything, is yet to come.

The controversy stems from emails that indicate the governor's office may have been engaging in political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee by pushing for lane closures on the nearby George Washington Bridge last September.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during a news conference Thursday in Trenton
Mel Evans | AP

(Read more: I apologize to the people of NJ: Chris Christie)

Wall Street, where he hopes to derive considerable support in his expected 2016 run for the Oval Office, took notice of Christie's handling of the crisis.

"Assuming there are no fresh revelations, I think he survives this," said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group in Washington.

CNBC.com readers agreed, with an unscientific online poll showing two-thirds support for the Garden State's chief executive to stay in office.

Former Dem. governor sees 'holes' in Christie's story

Christie's engaging public persona—part schoolyard tough guy, part political pragmatist—could be the key to survival.

"I think it was a tour de force," Valliere said of the news conference. "He said what he had to say. In terms of the apology, it was a very powerful mea culpa. Now we'll see if there's anything else. Is there anything that could implicate him? But I think he did himself a lot of good today."

(Read more: NJ's Christie deputy linked to traffic revenge plot)

That proverbial other shoe dropping is what most political observers were awaiting. Surviving scandal is endemic to any longtime politician, and Christie's future seemed to hinge on whether all of "Bridgegate" has been brought into the open.

"If he lies about it today and the truth comes out, that's absolutely disastrous. And I think any presidential ambition is over," Ed Rendell, the former governor of neighboring Pennsylvania and head of the Democratic National Committee, told CNBC.

GOP official praises Christie's response to scandal

"If he says, 'Look I was angry. I made a mistake. I told my people to do this' … there's a chance to live with the damage,' Rendell said. "He knows as a prosecutor the truth is going to come out. There's an email out there. There's a text message out there. Or maybe the people he fires today get angry and say, 'Well I did it because he told me to do it.' "

Social media—where such controversies play out in real time—found sharply divided opinions.

(Read more: Mayor: Christie should apologize for bridge scandal)

Conservative flamethrower Ann Coulter wondered whether Christie's friendship with President Barack Obama during Superstorm Sandy—which drew scorn from his Republican brethren—would help him now.

Coulter tweet

Other reaction seemed to fall along partisan lines, particularly among media outlets:

Slate tweet

Filibustering at the news conference didn't seem to be helping.

Jacobson tweet

Comparisons to Obama's list of scandals were inevitable.

Henry tweet

Because at the end of the day, it's really not about a bridge, or Fort Lee or what Christie knew and when he knew it. It's really all about 2016:Klein tweet

—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.