The readers of InsiderNJ know well my antipathy towards Chris Christie. Yet I only developed this attitude towards him during his tenure as Governor of New Jersey.
I did not have this view of him during his years of service as U.S. Attorney. In fact, I strongly supported him for the New Jersey Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2009 and for his election that November.
To this day, I don’t think Chris Christie is evil. Among New Jersey governors, past and present he has been the father and husband of one of the finest First Families. His wife, Mary Pat, is a woman of supreme decency, intelligence, graciousness, and class. His four children are models of superb behavior and accomplishment, and he has been an outstanding husband and father and a model private citizen.
To put matters in perspective, a comparison can be made between Christie, who is not evil, and Donald Trump, who is the embodiment of evil. Christie is an outstanding family man, while Donald Trump has always been a philandering husband and a father who was neglectful at best and abusive at worst.
The children of Donald Trump from his first marriage resemble corrupt and self-absorbed Romanov offspring, while the Christie children could qualify for perennial good citizenship awards. Christie is a man without racial prejudice, while Donald Trump is a vile white Supremacist, hateful of people of color. Finally, Christie has never discriminated against women, while Donald Trump is a contemptible misogynist.
But while Christie is fundamentally not evil, he has two deep character flaws that in my view impair his ability to be a public servant of quality. The first is that he is a bully, sometimes in the extreme, a Sonny Liston of politics. The second is that he is a person of irrepressible ambition, without limits or guard rails. And an essential component of that ambition is an obsessive quest to be relevant.
The bullying and the irrepressible ambition are inextricably linked, so a discussion of one necessitates a discussion of the other.
I don’t know if Chris Christie is a bully in his private life. I assume he isn’t. But the bullying in his political life is extremely offensive and not always effective.
Christie bullying involves the personal degrading of those who are in the way of his objectives. You could see this during his tenure as governor in his demeaning of legislators, his insults of callers to talk shows, and his disgusting and offensive tormenting of teachers who attended his town meetings and dared to challenge his education policies.
The common denominator of Christie bullying was his Liston-like attempt to intimidate those with less power than he. But nobody should confuse Christie bullying for toughness.
When it came to those with equal or greater power than he, Chris Christie was and is, in political terms, an abject, sniveling coward. You could observe this in the way he pandered to South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross and succumbed with obsequiousness to Donald Trump beginning in 2016.
In order to observe genuine political toughness, one need look no further than Christie’s successor as New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy and the way he stood up to George Norcross and successfully resisted the South Jersey boss’s avaricious efforts to gain for himself and his allies an unwarranted greater share of state largesse.
In boxing terms, Phil Murphy of suburban Boston is the political equivalent of another famous suburban Bostonian, former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano of Brockton, Massachusetts.
Marciano got up from knockdowns to knock out Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore and fought with a broken nose and still knocked out Ezzard Charles. Similarly, Murphy disregarded all of the disparaging remarks and pressures of Norcross and thwarted his efforts to expand his empire at the expense of the State of New Jersey. Phil Murphy is the quintessence of “Boston tough,” transferred to New Jersey.
By contrast, after Trump defeated Christie soundly in the 2016 early GOP primaries, Christie was reduced to pathetic sycophancy in his approach to The Donald. In boxing terms, he resembled the defeated Sonny Liston, sitting in his corner with his mouthpiece out after Muhammad Ali defeated him and won the world heavyweight championship in February, 1964.
Yet Christie, with his irrepressible ambition, endured in silence Trump’s humiliation of him. He did so, because he felt that his membership in good standing in Trumpworld was absolutely necessary for the fulfillment of his continuing White House dreams.
In order to maintain his status as a potential future presidential candidate, Christie constantly attempted to prove with the media his relevancy with Trump. There was no limit to how far and how low Christie would go in this regard.
In an August, 2020 interview with Bob Costa of the Washington Post, Christie publicly lauded Trump hate-monger Stephen Miller as one of the five key players who made possible Trump’s 2016 victory. While Christie had never been a racist, by virtue of his praise of Stephen Miller, Chris Christie becomes an enabler of Stephen Miller racism.
Christie’s position on the Coronavirus was absolutely shocking in terms of its indifference to human suffering. In May, 2020 he gave an interview with CNN in which he echoed the Trumpian position, pushing for the country to reopen despite several models forecasting that thousands of people could die daily from COVID-19.
His amplification was appalling in its insouciance. “Of course, everybody wants to save every life they can—but the question is, towards what end, ultimately?” Christie told CNN’s Dana Bash. “Are there ways that we can… thread the needle here to allow that there are going to be deaths, and there are going to be deaths no matter what?”
When Bash followed up and asked whether the public would accept a reopening in view of the prospect of so many deaths, Christie gave a terse reply, “They’re gonna have to.”
Christie’s quest for Trumpian relevancy, however, recently resulted in disaster. He had seen his role in preparing Trump for his debate with Joe Biden as one that could yield him maximal favorable publicity. The ultimate result, however, was a serious endangerment to Christie’s health, namely, his infection with the Coronavirus.
It has been said that the most dangerous place to be is between Rudy Giuliani and a camera. Compared to Chris Christie, however, Rudy Giuliani is camera-shy. For Chris Christie, television publicity is a political aphrodisiac. And he would always be able to maximize his publicity through George Stephanopoulos, his fellow panelist on ABC-TV news and Nicolle Wallace, the remarkably superficial news hostess at MSNBC who has become a Christie acolyte.
For Christie, it was shaping up to be a week in Trumpian heaven where he would be able to display before the world over television his role of supreme relevancy in Club Trump. A highlight for Christie’s week in Trump Heaven would be his attendance at the White House Rose Garden ceremony on Saturday, September 26 at which Amy Coney Barrett would be introduced as Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Christie would be invited by virtue of his Premium Membership in the mythical Club Trump. Now to obtain a Premium Membership in Club Trump, one must emulate Trump’s zeal in shunning the mask and disdaining social distancing.
Now Chris Christie is not a stupid individual. He knew fully well the risks in not wearing a mask and not observing social distancing. But for Chris Christie, proving before the world his relevancy in Trumpworld is a virtual pathological obsession. So he would disregard his own health, his own safety and attend the Barrett ceremony, where he would brazenly shun the mask, flout his disdain for social distancing, and even hug a fellow guest, as shown on this video.
At least six people who attended the ceremony would become infected with the Coronavirus. And one of them was Chris Christie.
And, of course, there were then the debate preparation sessions from that Saturday until Tuesday, September 29. The sessions were held in a room, which Christie attended, along with five other individuals, none of whom wore masks.
Again, Christie fully knew the risks to himself by joining others in their willful blissful ignorance by eschewing the mask. Had Christie worn the mask, however, he would have risked expulsion from Club Trump, the Trump fraternity, and the Trump Flat Earth Anti-Science Society. So he, too, shunned the mask at these meetings.
All this behavior further proved that when it comes to Donald Trump, Chris Christie, the man of self-proclaimed phony toughness is a pathetic weakling sycophant. This will forever doom to failure his irrepressible presidential aspirations.
Finally, there was the harm Christie inflicted on others, albeit unintentionally, by appearing on ABC News post-debate coverage, necessitating the quarantine for fourteen days of four ABC News staffers who came into contact with him. This has resulted in angry criticism of him by high profile members of ABC News.
“The decision for ABC News to include a Trump advisor as a paid analyst on air for the same debate for which he prepped the President was questionable,” one high-profile ABC News on-air personality told CNN Business on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. “Now that same advisor’s reckless behavior is risking the lives of ABC News employees. What was management thinking?”
Chris Christie is now hospitalized as a result of his Coronavirus infection. The week of Trump heaven to which he looked forward has become his week of Trump hell. One can only pray that for his sake and for the sake of his family, Chris Christie has a complete and rapid recovery.
Yet Chris Christie has now made history in a way he never intended. He is now a textbook case of how reckless ambition without guard rails can result in tragedy.
I have no doubt that when Christie hopefully emerges from recovery, he will resume his Don Quixotic hopeless long-range quest for the White House. The likelihood is that he will become New Jersey’s Harold Stassen, the former governor of Minnesota who came close to winning the Republican presidential nomination in 1948, yet kept hopelessly pursuing the GOP presidential nomination in subsequent campaigns, eventually becoming a figure of ridicule.
Meanwhile, Chris Christie is a supreme embarrassment to New Jersey. His friends would do him an enormous service if they pray for his recovery and afterwards prevail upon him to abandon his ultimately self-destructive foolhardy, hopeless White House ambition.
Alan 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.