On Tuesday, January 16, 2018, Chris Christie will conclude his tenure as governor of New Jersey. Democrat Phil Murphy will be inaugurated as the new governor of the Garden State.
Christie will be departing with the worst approval polling ratings of any governor over the past fifty years. He leaves behind a New Jersey Republican Party in ruins. The fiscal situation outlook is most grave. Christie himself has become a figure of public ridicule, due to Beachgate. And Bridgegate still clouds his image of probity won during his years as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.
Given my status as a leading Republican critic of Christie, it will shock my readers to read this discussion of the possibility of his running for president again. After all, since Christie’s gubernatorial re-election in 2013, I accurately and consistently predicted the demise of his 2016 presidential campaign. Certainly, I would never support a future Christie presidential candidacy. And in view of his current approval ratings and image problems, the notion of Christie running for president again appears to be ludicrous and preposterous.
The thought of such a future Christie presidential candidacy, however, is no more preposterous, than the thought of another Richard Nixon run for the White House appeared to be after he lost his race for governor of California in 1962 against the then incumbent governor, Edmund G.” Pat” Brown. Like Nixon, Chris Christie is a man of immense ego and irrepressible ambition. And like Nixon, Christie has an inner core belief that nobody can deal with America’s problems better than he.
There is one more quality that Christie shares with Nixon: the remarkable ability to make a comeback. Keep in mind that pundits had placed Chris Christie on the political endangered species list after he suffered two consecutive Republican primary election defeats in 1995 for State Assembly and in 1997 in his reelection bid for Morris County Freeholder. Four years later, he was nominated for U. S. Attorney, and eight years after that, he was elected Governor of New Jersey. In boxing terms, Chris Christie is the Sugar Ray Robinson of GOP politics, with the ability to make comebacks after all pundits have declared him finished.
I have seen Christie demonstrate most graphically the aforementioned qualities of ego, ambition, and total self-belief in his recent appearances on the MSNBC television shows of his one and only national media acolyte, Nicole Wallace. He seems to relish the media opportunity to express his views on the national scene. Clearly, he would never be satisfied with the relative anonymity of a major law firm after he leaves the governorship.
I obviously don’t know for a fact whether Chris Christie contemplates another run for the White House, but I definitely suspect that he does. And I will further shock my readers with this observation: There is a plausible, although highly unlikely, path for a Christie credible future White House bid. Such a pathway is totally dependent on two eventualities: 1) Donald Trump leaving the presidency under disgrace; and 2) Christie becoming a national media star, capable of making a major positive impression on the electorate.
Last week, Christie made the statement on Nicole Wallace’s MSNBC show, “Deadline: White House” that Jared Kushner deserves the scrutiny he is getting in the Mueller probe. Nobody outside Independent Counsel Mueller’s office and the Justice Department itself has any basis for assaying the likelihood of a Jared Kushner indictment. If Jared Kushner is indicted, however, it will propel Chris Christie on a spectacular post-gubernatorial media career.
Given his well-known adversarial relationship with both Charlie and Jared Kushner, every cable and network political television talk show would want Chris Christie as a guest. He performs very well on television political talk shows, and this would also put him in the position of being the most sought-after guest on shows regarding the possibility of a Trump impeachment.
Christie is positioning himself as neither a Trump apologist, nor a NeverTrumper, but instead as the “NON-TRUMP.” As Trump further declines, the media would note a marked contrast in personal behavior and values between the President and Chris Christie. Unlike the president, Christie is not a misogynist, a bigot, a xenophobe, or a sexual predator. Christie has been a loyal and exemplary family man, and his wife, Mary Pat and his four children are a justifiable source of pride to him. These are qualities that voters no longer take for granted in this era of Trump personal decadence and the “Me-too” movement.
While all this augurs well for future Christie political aspirations, his major obstacle will be the possible negative impact his New Jersey gubernatorial record may have on national public opinion.
Christie’s rivals for the Republican succession will seize upon the obvious negatives: Bridgegate, the downgrades of New Jersey’s credit ratings, his diversion of the ARC tunnel funds, the bungled Sandy recovery effort, the sorry state of New Jersey Transit. They will emphasize the pathetic state of the New Jersey Republican Party and how under his leadership, the state party apparatus exclusively promoted Christie and largely neglected GOP legislative candidates. And conservative polemicists will continue to note his failure to transform the New Jersey Supreme Court by appointing justices who would not legislate from the bench.
On top of that, there are all those memes of Christie sitting in that infamous beach chair. Politicians can recover from scathing attacks on their performance record. They find it much more difficult to overcome an image of ridicule.
Yet there are two very positive aspects of Christie’s gubernatorial record that provide him with the basis for both a positive New Jersey legacy and an appealing national message.
The first was his success in enacting caps that hold salary increases for local police and fire fighters that go to binding arbitration to a maximum of two per cent. This legislation has had a positive effect in limiting the rate of increases for local property taxes. And it gives Christie a basis for claiming that in New Jersey, he demonstrated courage in taking on special interests, namely public employee unions.
The second was his signing the Sarlo-Oroho bill, one of the most beneficial legislative enactments over the past half century. This bill dealt with two issues of major concern not only in New Jersey but throughout the nation: Transportation infrastructure and the economic problems of senior citizens.
The bill effectively resolved the financial shortfall of the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund by boosting the gasoline tax by 23 cents per gallon, an average cost to New Jersey motorists of less than $20.00 per month. Secondly, the legislation also constituted the most significant item of tax relief to New Jersey senior citizens in modern New Jersey political history by doubling the exemption of pension income from New Jersey income tax. Christie signed the legislation over the opposition of troglodyte, know-nothing right wing Republicans. And for that, he deserves enormous credit.
Having said that, I still believe that Chris Christie would not be able to overcome the negative aspects of his New Jersey record in any national campaign. One cannot, however, be certain of this.
Yogi Berra, the late Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” These words should be kept in mind when contemplating the political future of Chris Christie, the former Livingston High School catcher. Stay tuned.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman