New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was passed over by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to become his vice presidential running mate. That means that Christie will likely stick around the New Jersey State House and until his term as governor ends in January 2018.
But what awaits New Jersey for the rest of Christie’s tenure in Trenton?
According to Seton Hall University associate professor of political science Matt Hale, the rest of Christie’s term will likely be shaped by the fact that Christie is currently working as the head of Trump’s transition team.
“Governor Christie is still the head of Donald Trump’s transition team which is a full time job,” Hale said. “And so he is going to be pretty busy doing that and his other full time job as governor of New Jersey. I think he is still going to be very involved in the Trump campaign and the Trump effort and it just really depends on how that turns out. I think for the next 18 months we are going to have him being a part time governor and a part time Trump campaigner.”
For Hale, Christie’s focus will likely not be on New Jersey for the remainder of his term. Hale said that Christie is unlikely to enact large-scale policy initiatives on issues like the near-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). In June, Christie worked with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto on a deal to fund the TTF that included a cut to the sales tax. Sweeney, who had worked on a previous iteration of the deal which cut estate tax, did not approve of the plan the governor and speaker had concocted and recently announced a new plan. Christie, however, said that plan would be “dead on arrival.” On the night before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Sweeney said that he was prepared to head to Trenton at any point this week during the convention in case a special session was called on the TTF.
“I think Chris Christie is trying to run from New Jersey, not run New Jersey. I think that he is not going to do anything that could jeopardize his future so I wouldn’t expect him to all of a sudden raise taxes to pay for the Transportation Trust Fund,” Hale said. “He really, it seems to me, wants to run out the clock until he can leave Jersey behind.”
Montclair University political scientist Brigid Harrison agreed that Christie is unlikely to enact significant policy changes during the end of his term, partly due to his role with Trump and partly due to his lack of “political capital.”
“Given where we are right now, the fact that Christie is campaigning for Mr. Trump, that should consume the lion’s share of his energy until November,” Harrison said. “If Trump doesn’t win, it does give him some time to refocus his energy on New Jersey but, at that point, he will also be looking at an exit strategy and what he needs to do and accomplish to get where he wants to go. I don’t see, for example, him doing a deep dive into the most pressing issues the state faces. There will be a band-aid fix on the TTF just because there has to be. I don’t see him having the political capital and clout to again tackle pension reform and health benefit reform.”
According to Harrison, that lack of “political capital” stems from the New Jersey Republicans being tired of Christie’s unpopularity and Democrats gearing up for the 2017 gubernatorial primary.
“Republicans now are a bit weary and I think increasingly empowered to defy him recognizing that he is on his way out and that they have to look after their own political ties,” Harrison said. “Democrats, yeah, are hoping to cut deals with him but also distance themselves from him, particularly people like [likely 2017 gubernatorial candidate] Steve Sweeney who have kind of been joined at the hip with the governor throughout his tenure. That doesn’t make for an environment where big policies can be created. No one wants to give Chris Christie a legacy at this point.”
So what happens for Christie if Trump wins in November?
According to both Harrison and Hale, there are still possibilities for Christie with Trump despite being passed over for VP. Christie is a lawyer by trade and a former U.S. attorney. As such, his name has been frequently floated as a possibility for Attorney General under Trump. Both Harrison and Hale agree, however, that Christie may face difficulty getting approved by the senate. Because of that perceived difficult approval, a new possibility for Christie under Trump’s presidency has emerged: becoming the new chief of staff.
“If Trump wins I think his preference would be attorney general but the political reality is such that it may be rather difficult for the governor to win senate confirmation,” Harrison said, noting that scandals like Bridgegate may lead to the senate blocking Christie from becoming AG. “It seems like chief of staff would be a pretty nice fit. It doesn’t require senate confirmation, obviously. It is a person that controls access to the president, it is someone who works closely with the president which Mr. Christie seems to enjoy and Mr. Trump seems amenable to.”
According to Hale, even if Trump does not become the next president, Christie has set himself up for a positive future simply by the virtue of backing the presidential candidate. Hale said that Christie may be able to finagle his Trump support in 2016 to support from the public for another presidential run in 2020.
“If Christie becomes the heir to Donald Trump he starts out with 30 percent of the Republican Party right now and nobody else can say that. I am not totally sure that that happens but if he becomes the heir to the party he becomes a force in the party,” Hale said. “I think that Governor Christie has actually positioned himself pretty well for 2020 in terms of trying to attract the people that supported Trump. The people that love Donald Trump are probably still going to love him in 2020 so Christie could try to run an attract that exact group of people.”
The general election will be held in November of this year. Trump will face off against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The next New Jersey gubernatorial election will be held in November of 2017.