Opinion | Chris Christie’s (kind of) salvation

Let me tell you how I found out about Chris Christie. Because I think it tells you something about why he ran for president again and why he stayed on the campaign trail for so long.

In 2009, when Christie first ran for governor of New Jersey, I wrote a long article for a magazine about his opponent, incumbent Governor Jon Corzine. I was as harsh with Christie as I ever had with any politician. I laughed at the emptiness of his policies, because he had nothing and was trying to be all things to all people.

About a year later, Christie invited me for coffee at the Republican Governors Conference in San Diego. This was unusual, and I was prepared for the unpleasantness of a political figure reaching out after being pilloried in print. But Christie laughed and quoted my harshest words, admitting that I had a point. He asked me to come back to New Jersey and see what they were doing with the state’s dysfunctional budget, and I did.

I found something very different from the Christie I first met during the campaign. He seemed to be trying to reform the country by convincing voters that the unlimited services and high state pensions promised by his predecessors would never be achieved. And he was finding success in one high school gymnasium at a time.

What I came to admire about Christie, both then and since, was his sophistication in storytelling. And his abiding belief that he can bring you to his way of thinking. Christie was always keenly aware of the image she was creating, that of a truth-teller who never backed down from politics or what was right. He had an extraordinary talent for persuasion and tremendous ambition.

But in 2016, reeling from defeat as a presidential candidate, Christie made a grave miscalculation. He became the first big-name Republican to take on Donald Trump. In doing so, he blew away the image he had worked so hard to build (and managed to salvage even after a scandal that nearly sank his governorship). Where he was once a Reagan-esque figure to party donors and think-tank officials, he was seen as a bumbling idiot.

So if you want to know why Christie stayed in New Hampshire despite mounting evidence that she would do more good for the anti-Trump cause if she stood back as she did this week. , I think we need to understand why he came back in the first place. Of course, Christie thought she could get another nomination this time around (I have yet to meet a candidate who doesn’t), but she also had a better final performance in mind for herself.

His lashing out at Trump changed the narrative arc of Christie’s once-promising career, and he’s working hard to turn it around.

The eternal question among those who knew and watched Christie over the years is, “Why did he do this?” Privately, he never seriously considered Trump as a candidate and, like many of us, expected the party to coalesce around someone else before the primaries. He knew Trump well and considered him ignorant and unscrupulous. Christie’s most talented and loyal aides opposed his pivot to Trump and refused to take the leap with him. So why was he offering critical validation to Trump at that moment in 2016?

Christie often said he thought he could help shape Trump, but I always thought the answer was more fundamental. After years of methodically rising to the highest levels of politics, Christie was suddenly facing an existential moment. He is set to resign soon, but his polling results in left-leaning New Jersey have made it virtually impossible for him to campaign any further.

Christie was no pragmatist, but he saw an opportunity in Trump. If he backs up at a still-crucial time and Trump manages to win, Christie could end up becoming vice president. If Mr. Trump had lost, which seems more likely, Mr. Christie would at least have endeared himself to the party’s most prominent anti-establishment wing.It was an unusually cynical calculation on Christie’s part, or at least unusually blatant. In that irony.

The marriage didn’t work out from the beginning. Mr. Trump rewarded Mr. Christie’s dedication, treating him like an errand boy in public. The top job Christie had hoped for did not materialize. The only thing President Trump really gave us was the coronavirus. Christie said he contracted the coronavirus while preparing for the 2020 debate and nearly died.

Still, Christie stood by President Trump until the night of the second election, when he made it clear he would not accept the results. Apparently, this was too much for Christie. Or maybe it was the sudden realization that Trump was leaving office and was no longer of any use to anyone. And all Christie accomplished was to firmly connect himself to one of the most ignominious eras in American history—a reality that certainly hit home as he watched. It was. On January 6, 2021, a mob destroys the Capitol.

With incredible speed, Christie began doing what she does best: flipping the narrative on its head. He wrote a controversial book criticizing Trump and his movement. He has decided to run for president again as long as President Trump is running for office. Because he wanted a direct confrontation. He devised a campaign based on just one idea. Another of Trump’s words was the death of democracy, and only Christie had the skill and audacity to expose him.

This was precisely Christie’s campaign, which was less an appeal to a particular agenda than a plea for sanity. Sixty years ago, during the rebellion that shaped the Republican Party for generations to come, Barry Goldwater’s campaign told unwary voters: “In your heart of hearts you know he’s right.” Christie’s pitch to Republican voters was essentially a variation of “In your heart of hearts you know he’s wrong.” (At one point I told Christy he should have used this line. He may have been smart, but he ignored me.)

It didn’t work. Perhaps it’s because the old Republican Party is now really a memory, replaced by a mixture of society’s darkest fears and impulses. Or maybe it was because Christie was unable to assess Trump face-to-face, who refuses to debate his opponent and doesn’t really need to.

But perhaps the real problem for Christie is that this time, instead of trying to be everything to everyone, as he did in his first gubernatorial race, he ended up being nothing to anyone. Voters with a lingering affection for Trump saw Christie as a turncoat, even if they didn’t want to vote for him. Meanwhile, those seeking an alternative haven’t forgotten the distasteful way in which Christie helped legitimize the MAGA movement – for which, after months of delay, she finally (more or less) apologized in an ad last week. I was able to do it.

Having built a reputation for not getting involved in anything halfway, he found himself stuck in that in-between vacuum. He was too anti-Trump for his party supporters and too pro-Trump for everyone else.

But if Mr. Christie’s strategy was really all about stopping Mr. Trump, you would think he would have made a different choice in the weeks leading up to his campaign. It has been clear for weeks that Nikki Haley, another Trump policy advocate turned critic, served the administration rather than as a courtier. – Most likely to solidify anti-Trump votes. Christie appeared to have a path to forging a similar agreement with her with Trump. It’s also possible that she teamed up with Haley, perhaps in exchange for the No. 2 spot she was denied in 2016.

In fact, things turned sour in a recent debate when the obnoxious Vivek Ramaswamy (adjectives like “honorable” and “righteous minister” seem to have been attached to his name) attacked Haley as corrupt. It looked like it was heading in the right direction. Christie defended her shrewdly and fiercely. I thought it was a signal that perhaps the pro-government candidates on stage were inching towards an alliance.

But when Haley punctured her own ship shortly afterward by refusing to mention slavery as a cause of the Civil War during an appearance in New Hampshire, Christie lashed out at her, saying, “Something like that. That’s never a good thing when you’re trying to be someone.” you’re not. In response, the state’s governor, Chris Sununu, issued an unusually harsh rebuke, asking Christie to halt her campaign. Instead of supporting Haley, who has suspended her campaign, Christie has successfully distanced herself further from her.

The truth is that Mr. Christie remained in the race long after it became clear that he was ruining the party’s best chance to derail Mr. Trump. This time he had no interest in signing a contract. He seemed primarily interested in his own heritage. He hopes that when history is written, he will be remembered not for vindicating Trump when it mattered most, but for standing up to the bitter end alongside strongmen like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney. I hope.

This is probably also a story of redemption. Contrary to what his critics say, Christie is a man with deep beliefs about good governance and the value of the American project. He knows he played a small role in this political horror story that is now reaching its terrifying climax. And if he could go back to that moment in 2016, when he chose between what he knew was right and what he thought was expedient, he would have done things differently. I have little doubt.

Perhaps this last campaign brought some small relief to Christie. Perhaps that is all the redemption he deserves.

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