New Jersey political insiders observed Gov. Chris Christie’s ongoing national-sized gyrations with the impassiveness of iguanas stranded on rocks, by now wholly used to the governor’s antics and barely aware of an all-encompassing hyper-kinetic Twittersphere.
Didn’t that have something to do with Cory Booker?
Let those kids go crazy making fun of Christie and his second banana stagecraft, we know the inside game, ran the implacable backroom commentary.
While the likes of Meg Whitman and Nikki Haley reacted with shock to the news of Christie supporting the eminently volatile Donald Trump for president, those who have long occupied the swamps here and plied their trade in the backwaters and stagnant, toxic-choked tributaries of Jersey didn’t see anything amiss or illogical in Christie’s selection.
The governor’s playbook contained no surprise enumeration of predictable virtues. Opportunism. Power. Ego. Ambition. And the greatest of these is power.
PolitickerNJ once sat on a stool in a bar in Princeton near the framed faces of all the school’s past luminaries, a shrine that included Tom Kean, Sr., Christie’s avowed political hero.
“He’s trying to get into that world, that world of those guys and their connections,” PolitickerNJ observed of the up and coming Republican governor of New Jersey. “He’s the guy on the outside trying to get into their world.”
The face of the insider on an accompanying stool hardened behind a mug of beer.
“Naw,” the insider said. “He doesn’t care about them. All he cares about is power.”
So among the most veteran operatives on the ground and the squishy surfaces here approximating the ground, the play went down Friday without the mild shock waves that rattled the GOP establishment elsewhere.
Christie’s always been about himself, one Republican insider reminded PolitickerNJ. He built his own brand, not the party. He cut deals with Democrats to give himself a national narrative, and dried up the goodwill of his fellow Republicans.
“I’m not surprised,” said one Republican with rolled eyes, when he found out on the news about Christie backing Trump.
All agreed the play was for straight up power, but what exactly.
Three theories circulated on Saturday night, the day after Christie endorsed Trump.
The first theory was that Christie wants attorney general. He was the U.S. Attorney of New Jersey and by coming out early and bear-hugging Trump he could secure himself a place in the cabinet as the nation’s top cop, expanding a role he already built in New Jersey
The second theory was that he’s setting himself up to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), a national-sized perch that would enable him to have an entourage and a stable of black SUVs with tinted windows and plenty of room to move around the country trying to restore a badly damaged Republican Party brand.
Then there was the third theory, and by Wednesday morning it was the most avidly surviving theory.
Christie backed Trump before anyone else in the Republican establishment in order to get on Trump’s ticket as the billionaire real estate tycoon’s vice presidential choice. How else could one endure the indignity of standing upright on stage like a figure in a life-sized Museum of Natural History set-piece unless the payoff included VP.
One insider was sure of it.
“Okay, so the establishment hates Christie right now because he did this, but if Trump wins with Christie on the ticket, Chris is that guy who knows enough about government and has sufficient contacts in the party from his days as chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association [RGA] to be able to go to people and say, ‘Deal with me. We know how Donald… er, the President, gets sometimes. So deal with me.’ He can be the conduit. He knows bureaucracy. Donald doesn’t. That’s how he re-brands himself.”
A second source operated under the assumption that a Trump-Christie ticket will never get that far.
While recognizing the tremendous deficits of a Hillary Clinton candidacy, the source, a Democrat, argued that Trump has wounded himself with too many key voting blocs, including women, Hispanics, Blacks, and the Republican Party itself. Just this past weekend, former Governor Christie Todd Whitman – New Jersey’s last elected Republican Governor before Christie – told the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran that come November she would vote for Clinton sooner than back Trump.
“So Christie, by getting on the ticket,” the source insisted, “sets himself up to run in four years.”
The source made the case that Christie could be the successor to the Sarah Palin, Donald Trump tradition in a go-for-broke 2020 stab at the GOP nomination. PolitickerNJ pushed back. Too much time would have elapsed. He’d have no traction. Sure, maybe he’d get RNc chair but if Trump doesn’t make it the party wouldn’t give another Northeasterner a crack at lifting up that wing of the party.
Fine, the source said.
Even if Trump-Christie loses, and even if together they can’t get the governor RNC chair, Christie will be able to ride into the sunset as CEO of some Trump-fashioned gaming paradise somewhere: Trump Dubai, managed by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The insiders talked, their conversations combining to create a mournful murmuring.
Under it all in the Sunday aftermath of Trump’s initial inability to condemn in the strongest possible terms the support for his campaign of white supremacist David Duke and the wave of subsequent calls – seven newspapers in all – for Christie to resign; under the images of Christie getting off the stage to comply with Trump’s Texas-sized command, under the wag-the-dog press conference on the Supreme Court and the governor’s refusal to answer off-topic questions, under the still-unresolved strands of Bridgegate and the months of muffled and muzzled collective compliance with Christie’s doomed presidential aspirations as the state tanked, in the leafiest burghs, under the memories of Millicent Fenwick and a genteel GOP cast now frighteningly against the upsurge of middle American anger, under the immobility of county to county structures corroded into complacency but still not entirely shut down to the possibility somewhere of a hero, lay an all-time fatigue, irritation and overriding disgust with Chris Christie.