No, I have not become a supporter of Chris Christie. In fact, I remain probably the most outspoken GOP critic of his New Jersey gubernatorial administration.
I thought Christie was an outstanding U.S. Attorney for the State of New Jersey. I personally worked with him on environmental litigation matters while I served as Region 2 EPA Administrator during the Bush 43 administration, and his performance was outstanding.
As a governor, however, he badly disappointed me. I will always give him credit for the enactment of 1) the much-needed gas tax increase to fund transportation infrastructure; and 2) the most significant senior citizen tax relief measure in modern New Jersey political history in the form of major increases in the exemption of pensions from state income tax. He failed completely, however, on two major priorities: 1) Improvement of the state fiscal outlook; and 2) the appointment of strict constructionists to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Furthermore, I will never accept his explanation of his role in the Bridgegate scandal.
Accordingly, as early as 2013, I stood virtually alone among New Jersey Republican known figures in debunking the possibility of Chris Christie winning the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And I was proven right in this regard.
But now, let me be the first New Jersey Republican of note to say that there exists a path for Chris Christie to win a future Republican presidential nomination. This would be the greatest political comeback since the rebound of Richard Nixon from defeated California gubernatorial candidate in 1962 to elected president in 1968.
The starting point for Christie’s comeback path would be his appointment by Donald Trump as U.S. Attorney General. And I believe that this is a distinct possibility.
Let me emphasize that I am not predicting outright such a Trump appointment of Christie. Donald Trump himself doesn’t know what appointments he will make in the future.
It is undeniable, however, that Trump has become obsessed with anger and contempt for his current U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, whom Trump regards as a disloyal incompetent dolt. While Trump has the authority to fire him, he has not yet done so due to his concern for possible negative political consequences and the possibility that such a firing might be viewed by Independent Counsel Robert Mueller as a further presidential act of obstruction of justice.
There is no question, however, that Trump is a person of pathetically poor impulse control. He is currently undergoing a personal and political meltdown. One of these mornings, Trump will awaken and in a fit of rage fire Sessions. This would be an act of lunacy, but we have witnessed this past week Trump committing such an act of lunacy in his imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs, despite the advice of his National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and free market conservatives throughout the nation.
It has been reported that in the course of his anti-Sessions tirades, Trump has exclaimed, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Translated: Trump wants an attorney general whose loyalty to Trump exceeds his adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law.
Chris Christie is not stupid, and he would never give such a pledge of loyalty to Donald Trump. Still, it is quite possible that The Donald would still appoint him as the successor to Jeff Sessions. Trump is a deeply paranoiac individual, and while he knows that Christie would never be his Roy Cohn, the former New Jersey governor would at least not deliberately shaft him.
In his capacity as an ABC news commentator, Christie has defended the integrity of both Bob Mueller, whom he knows well from his days as U.S. Attorney and Donald Trump himself. Furthermore, he has counseled the national Republican Party against its incipient foolhardy war against the institution of the FBI.
I do not think that Donald Trump regards Christie’s stance in this regard as a negative. In fact, it is quite possible that Trump would regard this as an asset. Rightly or wrongly, Trump may regard Christie as somebody who could act as a broker between Mueller and the White House.
Furthermore, while I have no evidence in this regard, I suspect that Christie is very much on Trump’s telephone call advice list. Unlike his views of Sessions, Trump likes and respects Christie. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have virtually no clout at all in White House appointment matters in view of Jared’s hemorrhaging legal and ethical problems. If Trump wants to nominate Christie as Attorney General, there is no way that Jared and Ivanka will be able to stop it. The former veto power of “Jarvanka” is now inoperative.
So indeed, I see the appointment by Donald Trump of Chris Christie to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General as indeed plausible. By his performance as U.S. Attorney, Christie has demonstrated that if he avoids political foolishness and ethically questionable behavior, he has the talent to be an outstanding Attorney General.
Christie would face no problems in being confirmed by the Senate. Republicans hold the majority, and Christie would receive the vote of every GOP Senator, plus New Jersey Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker. To be sure, liberal Democrats would raise the Bridgegate scandal as a basis for denying Christie confirmation. And Christie’s successor as New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney, Paul Fishman, would be on MSNBC and CNN every night, arguing against Christie’s appointment. None of this would work. Christie would be confirmed.
For Christie, an appointment by Trump as Attorney General could be a political godsend.
Not only the Trump administration, but the Republican Party itself is in a state of meltdown. The 2018 national Congressional elections will be a wave election, with major losses for the GOP in the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. Trumpism is a cancer on the GOP body politic, and for center-right Republicans, the Trumpist-controlled national GOP is reminiscent of the village in Vietnam during the war which had to be destroyed in order to save it.
Out of the ash heap of a destroyed national Trumpist GOP, center-right Republicans will emerge as potential future presidential candidates involved in the rebuilding of the party. If Christie as an Attorney General avoids the scandal of the Trumpian swamp, he could emerge as such a viable presidential candidate, with ability to retain the loyalty of Trump Republicans as well.
Again, a Christie comeback on the national level is something I do not support or wish for. My point is, however, that there is a plausible scenario for it if he is appointed by Trump to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. 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.