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MENDHAM – The question to Chris Christie was a blunt one – Just why do you still support or even like Donald Trump after you were dumped as transition team chief?
Christie’s dismissal two days after the 2016 election is chronicled with all the juicy details in the introduction to his just released book. And here he was Friday night answering questions about the book before a hometown audience of about 400 at the Mendham High School auditorium.
In replying, the former governor reached all the way back to his days as a Morris County freeholder. Really. And he brought up Jack O’Keeffe, Christie’s first political ally. They ran – and won – together in the 1994 Republican freeholder primary. They were an odd pair. Christie was a neophyte; O’Keeffe was about twice his age with a political career that stretched back to the mid 1960’s.
As they settled in as freeholders, Christie recalled some sort of political slight and told O’Keeffe he was plotting revenge. O’Keeffe sat him down and told him to rethink his plans.
“Grudges are waste of useful energy,” O’Keeffe told the young Christie.
While cynics may remember Christie settling many a political score over the years, he said it is that wisdom that keeps him in the president’s orbit.
He said his differences with the administrator and some of those in it – he mockingly called Jared Kushner one of “the stars” of his book – pale in comparison to reality.
“We only have one president at a time,” he said. A few minutes later, he observed, “Our country matters more than my hurt feelings.”
Christie has been popping up on TV all week. But this was his first appearance in Morris County where people paid $45 to hear Christie talk about the book and get a signed copy. Part of the money also went to support the Mendham Township Library. A handful of people who worked in Christie’s administration in Trenton showed up, but surprisingly perhaps, none of the freeholders or state lawmakers from the county attended.
The governor’s interest in sports long has allowed him to mesh with average folk, so it was understandable that he got a question about the Dallas Cowboys. This allowed him to talk about being a Cowboys’ fan in New Jersey.
He said he found out how tough that really is when John Mara, the owner of the Giants, had reason to visit the governor’s office. Christie said Mara saw there was a signed football by Roger Staubach in the office, And when Christie confessed to being a fan of “America’s Team,” he said Mara didn’t think it was funny. In fact, Mara kept telling him, “You can’t do that.” And Christie recalled, “He’s getting red in the face.”
Finally, Christie offered Mara a deal – change the name of the team to the “New Jersey Giants” and I’ll publicly burn a Cowboys’ pennant and become a Giants’ fan. Mara said he couldn’t do that and walked out, Christie recalled.
That, of course, was child’s play compared to dealing with Eagles’ fans. Attending a Cowboys-Eagles game in Philadelphia, Christie swore that when he was ready to leave, his State Trooper security detail said it wasn’t going to be that easy. Apparently, about 75 Eagle fans had surrounded his SUV in the parking lot. The Philadelphia Police had to be summoned to disperse them.
Still, the game of politics took front and center. The 2016 presidential campaign was not a sterling success for Christie, but he gleefully recounted his best moment – the take down of Marco Rubio.
Anyone who saw it won’t forget it. In a televised debate a few days before the New Hampshire primary, Christie called Rubio the “man in the bubble,” noting how his staff prevented him from being asked tough questions. During a back and forth, Rubio, in what resembled a Saturday Night Live skit, repeated a canned response criticizing Barack Obama three times. He looked and sounded ridiculous.
There was bad blood here. Rubio had been running commercials linking Christie with Nancy Pelosi using the cliche, “You are known by the company you keep.”
Turns out that Pelosi, then in her first tenure as House Speaker, had visited New Jersey to celebrate a prisoner reentry program. As is customary in gatherings with a civil rights bent, the crowd was asked to hold hands at the end of the ceremony. The governor was sitting next to the speaker, so they held hands and cameras clicked all over the room.
Christie said that before they clutched hands, Pelosi said to him, “Who do you think this is going to hurt more?”
We soon found out, and knowing that today, Christie said one should never underestimate the political acumen of Nancy Pelosi.
You wonder if he ever told that to Mr. Trump.