Requiem For A Scheme
Christie’s Transition to No Man’s Land?
The governor defiled himself as a loyal footman in Trump’s march to victory. And now, as a final indignity, it appears he’s being marched toward the exit.
“Are you in line for a job?” a reporter shouted at him as he made his way up the steps.
“Governor Christie, what are you going to discuss with Mr. Trump today?” yelled another.
Christie didn’t acknowledge them.
He walked past the columns and large American flag to the entryway of the stately brick building, and met Donald Trump with a handshake. The two men faced the press and posed.
Trump was asked what they would be discussing.
“Lots of things,” he said. “Lots of good things.”
The club, nestled between Christie’s home in Mendham and the statehouse in Trenton, is the unofficial Trump transition weekend headquarters, meaning Christie, although still the governor, is no longer the most powerful politician residing this side of the Hudson.
And, although still in Trump’s orbit, he’s no longer the most influential politician on the transition, either. Presidential transitions occur in the short period of time after the election and before the inauguration, when presidents-elect staff their incoming administrations and select their political appointees, from secretary of State to secretary of interior. After leading the effort for months, following his own disastrous presidential campaign and his defection from the Republican establishment as one of its first members to support Trump, Christie was pushed out soon after Election Day, replaced by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who, to add insult to injury, had previously beat Christie for the VP job.
Christie and Trump discussed “domestic security, law enforcement, and the American justice system,” according to a press release from the transition, sent out late Sunday evening. But whatever the reason for their meeting, this image of a silent Christie deferring to the president-elect served as his most recent, though surely not his final, humiliation: confirmation that he answers to the boss now, a man whom he once mocked as being unfit to serve, and whose son-in-law’s father he once sent to prison, back when he had real power.
It’s the kind of descent, set off by greed and hubris, that could serve as the subject of a Springsteen song if the characters had any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Of course, they don’t.
There are competing narratives about Christie’s demotion. Trump himself has revealed little about what goes on behind the scenes of his transition, and his staffers are reluctant if not downright unwilling to go on the record with any meaningful information. Trump seems to enjoy the dramatic guessing game that results from his silence, a throwback to his days as a purveyor of the cliffhanger on The Apprentice, his reality-TV show.
One version of events goes that Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka Trump and son of Charles Kushner, the Donald Trump of the Jersey Shore, wanted revenge for what Christie did to his family.
In 2005, Kushner the senior was convicted of witness tampering, tax evasion, and making illegal campaign contributions, following Christie’s investigation, which, among other things, involved Kushner being caught secretly videotaping his brother-in-law’s tryst with a prostitute Kushner hired and mailing the footage to his sister. His imprisonment brought shame to the family and disrupted a young Jared’s life.
So he had Christie axed and sent his allies down the escalator with him.
This tale is most flattering to the governor, for it reminds us that he was the United States attorney, appointed by George W. Bush, one of just a handful of people close to Trump with any actual experience doing anything except nodding their heads at him.
The other story is that Christie’s ouster was caused by some combination of his self-inflicted political wounds and what some transition insiders say was his own unsatisfactory performance leading the operation.
Trump is unhappy anytime his allies are making headlines, and he was already under the impression that Christie knew about the 2013 access lane closures at the George Washington Bridge while they were happening, even though the governor has always denied any involvement. Still, when Christie’s staffers were convicted this month, Trump was displeased and worried the issue would continue to haunt him.
According to Politico, Trump called Christie last week and “expressed his worry” about the scandal.
And that was on top of the fact that Christie had taken the transition job back when it seemed a menial task—since the idea that Trump might ever have to staff a White House was the stuff of heady fantasy for all but the most numbers-averse Deplorables until roughly 10 p.m. Nov. 8—and Christie performed it like one. When Trump and his guys got around to surveying the governor’s work, they were disappointed to find lobbyists and people whose résumés they didn’t even have being installed in the nascent Trump administration.
“The Bridgegate issue did loom large over all of this,” one Trump transition official told me. “It’s tough to talk about draining the swamp when you have this whole Bridgegate issue hanging above you.”
Besides, the official said, when they “started looking under the hood,” they realized Christie hadn’t done his job. “The effort was not where it needed to be.”
The official added that “it’s only natural” Trump, who likes familiarity, wanted his No. 2 guy to form his administration with him.
Martha Kumar, the director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to informing incoming White House staff about their offices as a means of aiding the transition to new administrations, said Pence brings experience to the table that Christie couldn’t offer. “They now have somebody who has experience with Congress, within the House leadership, and who has good relationships with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell,” she said. “Having someone with Pence’s background works well in that position.”
“It may be messy,” Kumar added, “but there’s a difference between being messy and chaotic.”
In New Jersey, in the Republican Party, and in this incoming administration, Christie once called the shots.
He seemed to have learned from his early political mistakes—he began running for local and state offices in 1993 and didn’t stop until he was engulfed in flames and a libel lawsuit in 1996—and by 2012, he was a politician with promise and a public servant people trusted. That year, influential conservatives practically injured themselves bending over backward to convince him to run for president. He didn’t give, of course, a decision that set him on the path to tragedy.
When he lost his promise and trust, after Bridgegate and a disastrous presidential campaign that lasted all of eight months, he attached himself to Trump, who, a confidant told me, he believed as early as March would be the Republican nominee, if not the president.
Working with Kushner, whose life Christie had so thoroughly upheaved, was “a bit awkward,” the confidant said. Christie didn’t reveal if he and Kushner ever talked about or even acknowledged what Christie done to Kushner’s father.
Still, as Christie saw it, the two men were professional enough to work side by side in pursuit of a common goal. This may have been a miscalculation. Prone to mafioso airs as he is, it seems Christie underestimated Kushner’s loyalty to his family, and Trump’s loyalty to his.
On Monday at 11 a.m., Christie and his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, will hold a cabinet meeting in Trenton, closed to the press and likely of great importance to his own administration. His political future is now in the tiny hands of a man he once laughed off as a joke.
Christie’s probably not laughing much now.