Listen to audio version of this article
As my friends know, I am a compulsive reader of books on history, political science, and economics. I maintain a continuing reading list and read at least twelve books a year.
In almost every case, the books I read are written by noted academics. My reading list in the year 2018 was distinguished by biographies of noted political luminaries: David Levering Lewis’s bio of Wendell Willkie, Bill Hitchcock’s Eisenhower bio, and Jim Florio’s memoir, Standing on Principle. In the month of January, I finished two monumental composite memoirs of presidential leadership, Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss.
Over the next four months, I have scheduled three acclaimed biographies of towering figures of history: 1) the Andrew Roberts bio of Winston Churchill; 2) the Julian Jackson bio of Charles DeGaulle; and 3) the David Blight bio of Frederick Douglass. So when I received a phone call from a friend asking if I would be reading the new bio of Chris Christie, I just laughed and responded by saying, “I don’t think Chris Christie can make the cut on a list that includes Winston Churchill, Charles DeGaulle, and Frederick Douglass!”
I then received a message from a political friend in New York telling me that Christie would be appearing on the PBS Show “Firing Line,” an icon in the conservative world since the days of its original host, William F. Buckley. The current host of the show, Margaret Hoover, is a woman of supreme Intelligence and intellect, a worthy successor to William F. Buckley.
So when I learned about the Christie Firing Line appearance, my journalistic instincts told me that this would be a book of major political significance, regardless of its degree of literary achievement. I ordered the book immediately and juggled my schedule to begin reading it.
And my instincts proved to be completely accurate.
The Christie book, Let Me Finish, is hardly a work of intellectual or journalistic achievement. If you want to read a work of objective history and profound analysis of Christie’s first term as governor, read the book, American Governor by Matt Katz, one of America’s foremost journalists. If you want a gubernatorial memoir reflecting intellectual sophistication and reflection, read Jim Florio’s memoir. But what can you expect? These are two different books written by two different governors, Florio, who is both intelligent and intellectual, and Christie, who is highly intelligent, but not an intellectual.
But while not an intellectual, Christie, when not driven by his emotions, is a man of politically strategic brilliance. And I say without hyperbole that Let Me Finish is a political masterstroke of a book that may well be the first step in Christie’s march towards the 2020 Republican Presidential nomination.
I have predicted in columns elsewhere that Donald Trump will resign the presidency in 2019. Yesterday, a story in Newsweek had as its headline, “DONALD TRUMP JR. WILL BE INDICTED BY MUELLER, FORMER PROSECUTOR SAYS, AND WILL HELP TO ENSNARE HIS FATHER.” (https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-jr-will-be-indicted-mueller-former-prosecutor-says-and-will-help-1315865?amp=1). You could have read that scenario in a column I authored a month ago.
Upon Trump’s resignation from the presidency, Vice President Mike Pence will become the president. Pence, however, will be a very poor reelection prospect in 2020.
Mike and Karen Pence, his wife, have a well-deserved reputation for extremism on social issues, particularly on issues affecting gay and lesbian voters. There is a “kook” factor affecting the reputation of Mike and Karen Pence due to their advocacy of far-right social issue positions.
So the search will be on for an alternative 2020 Republican presidential candidate to Mike Pence. Given the ability of the Trump base to veto any such alternative, the Pence opponent must not be somebody identified as a Trump adversary. That rules out former Ohio Governor John Kasich or Nebraska US Senator Ben Sasse.
So Chris Christie emerges as an ideal alternative to Mike Pence among Trump base voters. The book and his book television tour over the past week are critical to an auspicious start on his march to the GOP 2020 presidential nomination.
I have never seen Chris Christie perform more effectively on television than he did over the past week. His television book tour began with his aforesaid “Firing Line” appearance.
This past Wednesday, he had one of the most triumphal television days a prospective candidate has ever had. It began in the morning on the MSNBC Morning Joe show, on which he delivered a pitch perfect message to Washington Republican establishment figures still uncomfortable with Trump. In the evening, he was music to the ears of viewers of the Chris Cuomo show, many of whom have a New York City “outer boroughs” outlook on politics. He then delighted Trump base viewers of the Laura Ingraham show, who find him highly acceptable due to his service in the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. Finally, he performed solidly in front of Middle America on the 11:00 pm MSNBC Brian Williams newscast.
Christie has two target audiences for his book. The first consists of Trump base voters. The second consists of television executives and talk show hosts, who will serve as an excellent means of conveyance of the Christie message to Trump voters.
The Christie message to Trump base voters is as follows: Donald is a great guy, who was ill served by the political incompetents he appointed, particularly Jared Kushner. Had Donald let me continue to handle the Trump transition, instead of delegating its work to Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, he would have been a highly successful president.
This will shock my readers who are used to my outspoken criticisms of Christie, but I can partially vouch for his contention that he was doing an excellent job with the transition. As a former Region 2 EPA Administrator, I am most focused on the National Administrators who have been appointed since my departure at the end of the Bush 43 Administration. I know from the book one of the individuals Christie recommended for the EPA National Administrator position, Jim Strock, the first Environmental Secretary of the State of California. He would have been the best EPA National Administrator ever appointed by a Republican president, as contrasted with Trump’s original and since departed appointee, Scott Pruitt, who was undoubtedly the worst.
In fact, the Kushners, Charlie and Jared are perfect foils in the book and on the television appearances of the politically revived Christie. In recounting the loathsome acts for which Christie prosecuted and sent Charlie to jail, Christie is able to remind Trump voters what an effective US Attorney he was. As for Jared, Christie is able to illustrate most vividly the total lack of competency and experience of the Trump son-in-law. Trump base voters, by and large, do not view Jared and Ivanka as heroes but rather as interlopers trying to push the Donald to the left. Upon the departure of Jared and Ivanka from the White House, they will return to Manhattan and become empty-suit socialites and well-known expatriates of the politics of Washington, America’s modern-day Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
The Trump movement is motivated by grievance, rather than by ideology. Christie has always had finely honed instincts in appealing to grievance motivated voters.
One more aspect of a Christie-Pence War of Trump Succession: Upon the ascension to the presidency of Mike Pence, he would be required to appoint, subject to approval of both houses of Congress, an individual to serve as his vice president. He would be obviously motivated to select an individual who could enhance his appeal to women voters. Former South Carolina Governor and Trump Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley would be ideal in this regard. She would be an ideal running mate for Christie as well.
I know that many readers will find the scenario I have propounded to be preposterous, both from the standpoint of a Trump departure and a Christie comeback. We will soon see from the Mueller report and the outcome of the investigations of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York how likely is Trump’s presidential survival.
As for the likelihood of a Christie comeback, consider the comeback of Richard Nixon after his loss in the California gubernatorial election of 1962. The Nixon political obituary had been written. Yet he came all the way back to win the presidency in the election of 1968.
Richard Nixon was a man of irrepressible ambition. So is Chris Christie. I will never be a supporter of his, but I will never underestimate his capacity for a comeback.
Christie came back from political oblivion after losing his battle for reelection for Morris County freeholder in the Republican primary of 1997. His new book and his television appearances are the first steps in his effort to stage one of the greatest political comebacks in American history.
Never count out Chris Christie.
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.