The trial of New Jersey U.S. Senator Robert Menendez begins in September. I do not deem it proper for me to speculate as to the outcome of the trial.
I do think, however, that it is neither unreasonable nor improper to speculate as to whom would Governor Chris Christie appoint to replace Menendez should he resign for any reason prior to the end of the Christie administration. In that regard, one major question emerges: Would Christie appoint himself to fill such a Senate vacancy, which term would expire with the general election of November, 2018?
Christie does have the power to appoint himself. Indeed, five governors of other states appointed themselves to fill U. S. Senate vacancies during the 1960s.
To be sure, there would be an outcry of protest should Christie appoint himself. But why would he care?
As a U.S. Senator for an unexpired term ending November, 2018, Christie would have unusual leverage. He would be a vital additional vote for the needed majority to repeal and replace Obamacare. And his vote could be absolutely vital to preserve the continuation of the Trump administration itself.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be increasingly focused on the past financial activities of the Trump Organization. If he finds a “smoking gun” that implicates Trump himself, every Senate vote possible, including Christie’s may be necessary to avoid his removal from office.
Finally, this is a time when Trump needs allies more than ever. He has irretrievably alienated mainstream America by his unconscionable delay in denouncing white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Vladimir Putin while censuring Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Ken Frazier, the highly respected African-American CEO of Merck. Christie has been one of Trump’s most loyal allies. At a time when Trump’s base is collapsing, a Senator Christie would doubtless exact a high price for his loyalty: an implicit promise of a high Trump administration appointment at the end of his Senate term. And nobody in the Trump administration could prevent this appointment from happening.
The possibility of Governor Christie transforming himself into U.S. Senator Chris Christie becomes even more tempting for him when one looks at the alternatives available to him when he leaves office.
I do not take seriously the prospect of Chris Christie becoming a radio sports talk show host star. There simply is not a great market for Dallas Cowboy fans as metropolitan New York City sports talk show hosts. And when it comes to knowledge of sports history, a vital required asset for a sports talk show host, Christie is no Art Rust, Jr.
Neither do I take seriously the possibility of Christie being a star television talk show host on Fox News. In such a role, one must have the ability to listen as well as talk. Christie can talk, but listening is not his strong suit.
If the outgoing governor’s supported nominee, Craig Carpenito is appointed as U.S. Attorney, this could make Christie a highly lucrative prospect for a major New Jersey law firm. Christie’s attractiveness to such firms may be less than normally expected, in view of 1) his less than warm and tender relationship with the state bureaucracy; and 2) the antipathy between him and expected gubernatorial winner Phil Murphy. But a Carpenito appointment would guarantee an excellent relationship between Christie and the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office – and this would be viewed as a most substantial asset by New Jersey law firms, qualifying Christie for a multi-million dollar partnership offer.
Money, however, is not the only consideration for Chris Christie in making decisions as to his future. This is a man who loves politics from his very heart and soul and craves media attention. The relative anonymity of a major law firm will hardly be satisfying to Christie in this regard.
Also, Chris Christie is a man of irrepressible political ambition. When he finished last in the 1997 Morris County Republican freeholder primary, it appeared that his political career was over. Four years later, in 2001, he was appointed U.S. Attorney by President George W. Bush. Eight years later, in 2009, he was elected governor of New Jersey.
Christie has already disclaimed any interest in serving in the United States Senate. Such disclaimers would be inoperative, however, if Christie were to believe that service in the Senate until November, 2018 might further his never relinquished political ambitions.
So I will not predict that Christie would appoint himself to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate created by an early Menendez departure. But I won’t predict against this possibility either.
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.