Chris Christie tries again
Chris Christie is trying to regain political respectability with a road map for a post-Trump Republican Party amid countless media appearances.
The former New Jersey governor, once a prime GOP presidential hopeful, wrote the book “Republican Rescue” to save the party from its craziness, the lie about the stolen presidential election, the Jan. 6 mob assault on the Capitol and right-wing nuts such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.).
The problem — and the reason the book and the effort are doomed — is Christie’s own close association with Trump, which undercuts his credibility and illustrates why few escape the stigma of a Trump relationship.
Christie likens the need today to William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan tossing the extremist John Birch Society types out of the party in the 1960s. Yet the man he says he helped elect president not only didn’t want to throw out the fringes but embraced them.
Christie describes Trump as a longtime friend — which puts the ex-governor in unique company — and says they remained so until this year.
After his own humiliating presidential run in 2016 ended, Christie immediately jumped on the Trump bandwagon. Caught in internal battles he never joined the administration but was a close adviser from the start, through the 2020 election.
The theme of his insider account is “If only Trump had listened to me more.”
Christie says he advised the president to move more aggressively when the pandemic surfaced; he even wrote a mid-March 2020 Washington Post column to that effect.
Of course, it was to no avail.
Trump told journalist Bob Woodward early on that he knew the COVID-19 crisis was really serious — but wanted to “play it down” to avoid a panic. What he really worried about was the short-term effect on the economy and his reelection. Deborah Birx, Trump’s White House pandemic coordinator, said this response probably cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
Christie knew this. In October, he attended the White House COVID-19 superspreader event to celebrate the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. He was seen bantering indoors, maskless. Soon after, Christie came down with a scary case of COVID-19, though he suspects he got it at another White House meeting.
The book calls out the Trump-orchestrated “big lie” that the presidential election was stolen. But did this really surprise Christie?
For years, Trump peddled the false “birther” charge that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Christie even writes that Trump “showed how a little lie like that can be exploited.” During the 2016 election, Christie falsely claimed his candidate dropped the charges years before.
More directly, did Christie forget that when Ted Cruz won the January 2016 Iowa caucuses, Trump charged that the Texan “didn’t win Iowa. He stole it.”
And the former president’s blind eye to the Jan. 6 violence he inspired — he still says there was “a lot of love” there — shouldn’t have surprised his longtime friend.
“I’d like to punch him in the mouth,” Trump said of a protester at one of his rallies. He urged cops to rough up suspected criminals. When a right-wing plot was foiled to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), Trump suggested she asked for it with her policies. And of course the infamous “there were fine people on both sides” after white racists incited violence in Charlottesville.
Everything Trump said and did after the last election was predictable.
Was Christie really shocked? Gambling in Casablanca, shocked?
The former governor stresses that Republicans must be the party of integrity, a subtitle of the book is “saving the party from truth deniers.” Yet remember when Christie’s administration staged a huge multiday traffic jam for northern New Jersey commuters to punish a Democratic mayor for not supporting the Christie’s reelection?
Christie denied any knowledge, but his underlings — who took the blame — said he knew.
When he left office after 2017, Christie was the most unpopular governor in America.
Now — even in denouncing the Trump lies — the still politically ambitious Christie plays games.
He criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for bouncing two Republicans off the House committee investigating Jan. 6 — but they were proponents of the “big lie” and would have tried to turn a serious probe into a circus. He ignores the only reason there isn’t an independent, bipartisan commission, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, which was headed by Christie’s mentor, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean (R) — Republicans blocked it.
Christie is smart and can be charming; at the Washington press Gridiron dinner two weeks ago, he was a hit — and his wife, Mary Pat Christie, softens some of the rough edges.
He loves to bash the media but courts it assiduously — and even has a full-time gig as an ABC News commentator.
Christie writes that Trump’s conduct after the 2020 election is “going to be a permanent stain on his presidential legacy.” In the political test, the Trump association is a permanent stain on the once formidable Christie’s future and legacy.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.
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