DEVILS AND DUST
Trump’s Latest Acquisition: Christie’s Soul
Chris Christie seemed trapped in a nightmare at Trump’s press conference Tuesday night—and in a lot of ways, he was and it’s all his fault.
Chris Christie gazed up at the back of Donald Trump’s golden head in a Mar-a-Lago ballroom the evening of Super Tuesday. His mouth was slightly open. His brow was furrowed. His eyes were wide and uncertain, as if adjusting to the soft light of the crystal chandeliers that adorn his new world for the first time since Friday, when he shocked the political class and the members of his own inner circle by endorsing Trump’s candidacy.
“Look, Planned Parenthood has done very good work for many, many—for millions of women,” Trump told the cameras, confidently. “I’m a conservative, but I’m a commonsense conservative.”
Behind him, Christie seemed to shudder as his political career passed before his eyes. He had once admitted to supporting Planned Parenthood himself, in the mid-1990s when he served in local government, but he had long since converted to social conservatism and staunch anti-abortion politics. He spent an entire week of his presidential campaign this year denying that he had ever supported Planned Parenthood, and now here he stood behind a man singing the organization’s praises—and winning in spite of it.
Christie’s mouth curled into a frown, and then it opened.
But all that escaped was dead air.
A few weeks ago in Exeter, New Hampshire, when he was still a candidate, Christie had warned of what could happen if an unprepared Republican—specifically Marco Rubio—got too close to the presidency.
“The lights go on—they’re very bright and they’re very hot,” he said, “and they get brighter and hotter the closer you get to the presidency.”
At the time, he never could have predicted that he would soon find himself paralyzed beneath the the glare of those lights reflecting off the golden mane of a man he, and the rest of the establishment he belonged to then, regarded as a joke.
Trump was, he said then, nothing but a reality TV star with ideas that were not just impossible to execute, but fundamentally stupid. “You know it’s all make believe, right?” he told an audience at a town hall in Hampton. “There’s no boardroom in New York where you look at people and say, ‘You’re fired!’ It’s television.”
But Tuesday night was not, as some on Twitter joked, a hostage situation. Unless Christie was both the hostage and the hostage-taker, his opportunism having finally succeeded in subsuming the last remaining shreds of his humanity, assuming he had any to begin with.
Christie has long been mocked for his heft, but behind Trump, he looked puny and unremarkable, a hotel end-table of a human being.
He shifted his weight from foot to foot and periodically looked down. When his eyes rose to meet the scene again, disappointment spread across his face.
It was real. He really had done this to himself.
The end of Christie’s presidential campaign was always going to be the end of his political career. Any casual observer could’ve told you as much. Maybe he would become a high-priced securities and appellate lawyer afterward, like he was before his time as the U.S. Attorney and then governor. Or maybe he would pivot to punditry on one of the many cable networks he frequently appeared on as a guest. But with his endorsement of Trump, it seems possible that Christie never thought that far ahead. Maybe, after dropping out, he panicked at the idea that he would never again control a media cycle, never again be met by a sea of cameras and recorders shoved in his face.
His decision to endorse Trump was not a well thought out one. It was not deliberated over with his top advisers. And its effect on what was left of his career was swift and brutal.
Earlier in the day on Tuesday, seven New Jersey newspapers—all owned by the publisher Gannett—called on Christie to resign in a joint editorial, including the Daily Record, the paper of his hometown, Mendham.
“What an embarrassment,” the editorial began. “For the good of the state, it’s time for Christie to do his long-neglected constituents a favor and resign as governor. If he refuses, citizens should initiate a recall effort.”
This came after Meg Whitman, the former chairwoman of his defunct presidential campaign, issued a statement that basically said, “You are dead to me.”
After Christie announced he would campaign for Trump, some Trump supporters, who are defined by their opposition to conventional politics, told me “it’s just politics.”
But at what point can shameless social-climbing and star-fucking no longer be shrugged off as savvy networking? When does it stop being just politics and start being a moral disgrace?
Christie seemed to be asking himself those very questions Tuesday evening. For the first time in his public life, he looked disgusted with himself—and justifiably so.