Bill “Jules” Giuliano, a friend of Chris Christie’s, stood next to the small, circular stage in the gymnasium at Livingston High School. He wore a khaki blazer and his hair was slicked back. In a few minutes, Christie himself would come out, and he would announce, like Giuliano always knew he would, that he is running for president.
“He was pretty blunt when he was a kid and he’s pretty honest now,” Giuliano remarked in a voice that sounded a lot like Christie’s.
Just outside the gym, their baseball team photo hung on the wall.
“I spoke to him last night,” Giuliano told me. “And I said to him, ‘I remember writing in your yearbook: Maybe one day you will be president. Do you still have it?’” Giuliano laughed. “And he said ‘No, I lost it in the flood!’”
Today, Christie became the 14th Republican to enter the primary. His announcement comes on the heels of a cascade of grim statistics: An in-state approval rating of 30 percent; 44 percent of voters who think he’s full of shit; not even half of the jobs the state lost during the recession recovered; and an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, considerably higher than the 5.5 percent national average.
All of that, and the Bridgegate investigation may not yet be over.
Perhaps it’s miraculous, then, that Christie has managed to garner the support of 4 percent of likely Republican primary voters—a number which places him behind Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, and Donald Trump.
If any of this worries him, though, he didn’t show it during his performance.
Christie walked onstage to “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” by Bon Jovi, who incidentally performed at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton on Monday night in Red Bank, a riverfront town an hour south.
Christie’s campaign staffers said they were expecting 1,000 people to flood into the gymnasium, which is why, they claimed, the fire department made them remove the chairs that had been set up for the press. The room was at capacity by the time Christie got to the stage, but with what looked like just a few hundred supporters.
The first half of his speech was a slow, painstakingly detailed account of his family’s history. The second half, a fast-paced glossing over of his record in New Jersey, a series of uneasy snipes at President Obama, odd metaphors and plenty of platitudes about Leadership and Working Together.
Ahead of the speech, Christie’s team advertised the fact that unlike President Obama, he would not be using a Teleprompter to help him deliver his remarks, which might explain it.
“We need strength and decision-making and authority back in the Oval Office,” he said. “And that is why, today, I am proud to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for President of the United States of America! And now, as Livingston and New Jersey turns its gaze to the rest of Americans, what do we see and what can we confront? We need a campaign of big ideas and hard truths and real opportunities.”
At another point, Christie complained that other candidates won’t try to fix entitlements because they claim “if we do we will be lying and stealing from the American people.”
Christie said this was nonsense, because “the lying and stealing has already happened. The horse is out of the barn, and you can only get it back in by force.”
Christie, whose extent of foreign policy experience includes a trip to Mexico, a trip to England, and the declaration that Vladimir Putin would respect him more than he does Obama, bemoaned “seven years of weak and feckless foreign policy run by Barack Obama.”
He cautioned that the American people “better not turn it over to his second mate, Hillary Clinton.”
As Christie took credit for making New Jersey the better place that it almost certainly isn’t, he promised “a campaign without spin and without pandering or focus group tested answers. You get what I think, whether you like it or not or whether it makes you cringe every once in a while.”
Jim Mignon and Stephen Slotnick, two more buddies of Christie’s, watched from the side of the stage.
“He’s always been very engaging and very personable,” Slotnick said. “Even in high school, I always thought to myself, I could picture Chris as president.”