Following Donald Trump’s surprise — even to his campaign! — victory in the 2016 presidential race last Tuesday, I got lots of email about a recent column about the decline and fall of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
In the piece, I wrote that, barring a huge upset by Trump, Christie’s political career was over — derailed by the convictions of two of his former top gubernatorial aides in relation to the Bridgegate scandal.
Then Trump won. And Christie, who had been running Trump’s transition organization, was suddenly re-born.
Most of the emails I got regarding Christie and Trump can’t be printed on a family blog, but they all went something like this: “You said Christie’s career was over! Now look at him! Man, are you the worst!”
And, despite all of the curse words directed at me, the emailers had a point! Christie’s career was dead — d-e-a-d — if Trump had lost. The New Jersey governor had alienated many of his longtime allies when he decided to endorse Trump in February, following the end of his own presidential bid. And his relentless defense of Trump for the next eight-plus months further devalued his political stock in the eyes of Republican establishment types who were expected to re-seize control of the party following Trump’s loss.
But Trump’s victory turned out not to be such a good thing for Christie either. Within 72 hours of Trump winning, Christie was out as head of the transition — replaced by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. As The Washington Post wrote of the shakeup:
“The changes within the transition effort will substantially dilute the influence of Christie and his closest aides, add a conservative edge to the upper level of Trump’s team and formally empower Trump’s family in decisions about his administration…
“…The move comes after two former aides to Christie, whose administration in New Jersey has been hobbled by scandal, were convicted for their roles in politically motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.”
Not good. But it would get worse. Over the last few days, anyone with ties to Christie has been purged from the transition team — starting with former Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who had been running transition efforts in the national security space. Richard Bagger, a former Christie chief of staff who had been executive director of the transition, and William Palatucci, a New Jersey Republican who served as the transition team’s general counsel, have also been removed in recent days.
The “why” is hard to figure out. Many media reports on the Christie purge suggest that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was unhappy with Christie’s handling of the organization. Christie and Kushner have history; as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christie prosecuted Kushner’s father on charges of illegal campaign contributions, among other things in 2005. Reporting around Trump’s vice presidential pick suggested that Kushner personally shut down the possibility of Christie as Trump’s pick for second-in-command. There’s also some chatter, according to the Washington Post report, that Christie was deemed insufficiently loyal to Trump by some within the president-elect’s inner circle.
Regardless, Christie is on the outs — big time. He’s nowhere near the Attorney General job — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is mentioned for that one! — which is the Cabinet post he quite clearly covets. And at the moment it’s hard to imagine Christie getting any sort of role in a Trump cabinet.
If Christie is left out of the cabinet, it will mark the latest dip in a political career that has seen more ups and downs than almost any other politician over the last four years.
Christie was the hottest commodity in Republican politics in the spring of 2012 as lots and lots of major donors, unhappy with Mitt Romney, tried to recruit him into the presidential race. Christie chose not to run, a decision that, with the benefit of hindsight, was a massive mistake. Then came Bridgegate, the lane-closure-as-political-revenge scandal that badly damaged Christie’s momentum following his 2013 re-election in the Garden State. Christie never really recovered from Bridgegate in the 2016 race, putting all of his chips into New Hampshire but finishing sixth. Then came the Trump endorsement, which seemed to confirm that Christie’s trend line was downward. Trump’s win triggered a brief rise in Christie’s stock. But, today, you can buy it for a penny. Again.
The story of Christie has all the elements of great drama — rises and falls, unpredictability and, at its heart, a tragic figure. Christie’s only hope now is that the winds (or whims) of Trumpworld shift and he somehow finds himself in favor again. I’d say it’s impossible but looking at the journey the New Jersey governor has been on over the past four years, anything is possible.