It was about a month ago that Gov. Chris Christie passed up the chance to grade President Trump’s fledgling administration.
“Aww, you know, Matt, I don’t want to turn my college transcript over or yours either, so I’m not going to start giving out letter grades,” Christie told the Today show’s Matt Lauer. “I would suggest that everybody take a breath. I have never seen such breathlessness over nine weeks of work.”
Fast-forward to Monday night and Christie was on CNN giving Trump a solid B for his first 100 days in office. The demerits all fell on Trump’s staff for a failed effort last month to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and for a botched move to ban travelers from majority-Muslim countries.
“They’ve got to get their act together in that regard and serve the president better,” Christie said. “I’ve been a governor for seven and a half years. You rely upon your staff to be able to tee the ball up and make sure that when you swing, you hit the ball and you hit the ball hard.”
Passed over for a top job in Trump’s administration, Christie has become an unusual sort of surrogate — quick to defend the president in one breath, sniping at Trump’s top aides and advisers in the next. Some say it’s an extended audition for a top White House job by a lame-duck governor who knows Trump watches copious amounts of TV news. Others say it’s constructive criticism from a straight shooter.
In any case, the sustained bashing of Trump’s inner circle is an unorthodox way to show support for a White House often busy with damage control. And Christie has not really let up, even though one of his former proteges, Bill Stepien, is the White House political director.
Breaking his silence at his first news conference since the start of the trial in September over the George Washington Bridge lane closures, Christie lambasted Trump’s advisers for sparking confusion and outrage over the president’s executive order to ban travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries.
“The roll-out of this executive order was terrible,” Christie told reporters in Newark on Jan. 31. “The president deserved much better than the roll-out that he got of this plan. I think that’s what caused a lot of the mistakes that were made. And those mistakes are unacceptable.”
The governor gave an extended critique that same night on MSNBC, stressing his personal connection to the president. “What I know Donald Trump knows tonight is that he was ill served,” Christie said. “Now, he’s not going to say it publicly because these folks are his staff, and he’s going to work with them, and everyone’s going to try to improve as we go forward. But I know him. He knows tonight he could have been served better.”
The travel ban was the brainchild of Trump strategist Steve Bannon and policy adviser Stephen Miller. Christie didn’t name them — “I don’t care who did it or who was involved in it, the president is not going to be happy about that” — and seemed to simultaneously defend Bannon, noting that the former Breitbart News chairman was busy working on many White House initiatives. Still, Christie kept repeating that Trump had been “ill served.”
“He was ill served by whoever it was who came up with a way to roll this out — not including relevant people that needed to be included like General Kelly [Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly] and others, not getting all of the briefings to the airports and to all the security folks to make sure that things weren’t done incorrectly … and then trying to defend it as if what you see isn’t what you really see,” Christie said. “When mistakes happen that are not your fault, then that becomes enraging.”
In February, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Christie whether White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had been wrong to ask the FBI to publicly discredit reports that Trump campaign associates were under investigation for possible Russian ties. Christie said Priebus had “great integrity.”
“I don’t think he did anything wrong, but I do think that it’s something that perception matters, and we’ve got to try it differently,” he said.
He later said of Trump’s staff, “The folks around him are going to have to start producing results for him that he then can say to the American people, ‘We’re getting the job done.’”
The New York Times reported in December that Christie’s “friends have been telling people in New Jersey that the governor expects Mr. Trump to eventually come around to him.”
“According to their scenario, the White House management team of Jared Kushner, Stephen K. Bannon and Reince Priebus will be a disaster and Mr. Christie will be tapped as the skilled manager, like David Gergen, the former aide to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan who swooped in to steady Bill Clinton’s administration after a raucous first year,” The Times reported.
Then, after a Valentine’s Day lunch with Trump in February, The New York Post reported that Christie was in the running to take over as chief of staff for Priebus. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer quickly denied that Christie and Trump discussed the chief of staff position, Christie instead was tapped to lead a White House task force on opiate addiction, and an anonymous Trump aide told Axios that “the Christie chatter is as always generated by Christieland.”
In his CNN interview Monday night, Christie gave props to the White House for the successful roll-out and confirmation of Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch. And he said he hoped a renewed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would be met with success this time.
“I don’t think that the way the whole health care situation was handled either on the Hill or at the White House was exemplary,” Christie told Tapper. “We didn’t get the result that we needed to get. Now I know they’re going back at it again, and I wish them the best of luck.”