There is increasing vocalized speculation within the New Jersey Republican Party about the possibility of Gov. Chris Christie leaving open a self-appointment to a United States Senate seat in the event that the seat becomes open. U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) faces a 14-count indictment and, according to veteran criminal defense attorney Joe Hayden, a “fighting chance” at trial.
Menendez has his dukes up and gives every indication he intends to be pried from his chair of power only after the most intense of fights. But if the Democratic senator cracks up, depending on the frame of time in which the seat becomes available and Christie in his gubernatorial role faces his responsibility of picking a successor, Republicans long irritated at Christie for creating a Christie brand and shirking the less glamorous demands of statewide party-building, see a chance for the GOP to hold onto power if the governor appoints himself to fill a vacant senate seat.
This past week, two sources close to the heart of Republican Party power in the days leading up to the long-anticipated Bridgegate indictments by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, broached the subject with PolitickerNJ. Both noted that timing is everything in politics, but suggested that later rather than sooner, if Christie’s presidential prospects tank and he must come back to a state in ruins and Menendez conceivably on the losing end of his court fight, Christie could extend his political life, and give a much-needed boost to a downcast Republican Party, by appointing himself senator.
The arguments on this subject run pro and con, with some sources saying it’s the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard for a variety of reasons, not least of which is Christie’s own hunger for the executive limelight, an appetite poorly served by federal legislative duties. Others point out that by making such a move Christie would too obviously be trying to escape a state in crisis and would only enhance his image as a self-serving politician little concerned with government problem-solving. Still others note Christie’s upside down approval rating and a statewide population shrugging its collective shoulders at the prospect of President Christie. He’s done, the assessment runs, how could he possibly ever even seriously entertain – except in a kind of Blagojevich-like alternate universe – the U.S. Senate option?
It bears mentioning that more GOP sources comfortably speculate about Christie’s future in cable television as a well-paid, willing in-house ratings challenger to the likes of cable kingpins Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. One of the sources who broached the U.S. Senate option conceded that the move might even constitute wishful thinking on the part of a party that has found itself irritated more than inspired by the governor since 2013, which nonetheless recognizes him as its only chances of extending party influence in the aftermath of his Drumthwacket tenure.
But it is out there, circulating through a Republican Party that at the edge of Bridgegate and in the lead up to the governor’s scheduled 2017 departure is searching for ways to extend the goodwill Christie managed to muster when he first won in 2009.
“I keep telling people [fellow Republicans],” one source told PolitickerNJ, “we’ve had it pretty good with Chris; I mean, when you consider the alternative. Chris is the only Republican out there who has a shot at winning statewide. Yeah, I know his numbers are down, but that’s right now. He’s the only one who gives the party a fighting chance.”
Noting that former Acting U.S. Senator Jeff Chiesa now has a law firm to run and would not want to go back to the U.S. Senate, the same source argued that if Christie had no desire to appoint himself to the U.S. Senate seat, former state Senator (and former Christie Chief of Staff) Richard Bagger would top a short list of potential place-fillers.