As I soldiered through Chris Christie’s spin-memoir “Let Me Finish” — I did it last week to spare you the slog — I found myself flashing back to September 2011, when he was being widely touted as the GOP’s “Next Big Thing.” One particular ego-stroking incident at the Reagan Presidential Library must surely be one of his personal favorites.
With the 2012 White House race on the horizon, guest speaker Christie was serenaded by a woman in the audience who tearfully begged him to run for president. He then gave the standard politician’s response, the aw-shucks demur: “I hear exactly what you’re saying, and I feel the passion with which you say it, and it touches me.” And when he said he had no plans for 2012, his listeners groaned. True that. They wanted him so badly, they actually groaned.
That incident is not recounted in “Let Me Finish” — unless I missed it, having nodded off — but in a way it permeates every page of a book that could easily have been subtitled with the closing of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley: “I was once Ozymandias, King of Kings / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! / Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Translation: This is a guy who cratered his second gubernatorial term with a 15 percent approval rating, who crashed and burned as a 2016 presidential candidate, who then signed on as toadying manservant to the most notorious con artist in presidential history…and whose new book is basically a desperate plea for any future slice of the action.
You may have noticed last week — amid the far more important news, starting with Donald Trump’s dangerously ignorant dismissal of the intelligence community — that Christie touted himself in a whirlwind media tour, damning Trump with faint praise and praising Trump with faint damns. It was obvious what he was doing. I agree with Christie biographer Matt Katz of WNYC, who tells me:
“He wants to remain relevant and get ready for what he believes will be a return to a national campaign. So he’s keeping his name in whatever news he can get into. He did Hannity, Colbert, Morning Joe, Daily Show and NPR…He gave different Christies to everyone, depending on the audience. He tried to stay in Trump’s good graces by avoiding criticism of him directly while trashing those around him. He’s trying to look like the adult in the room, and remain a known entity to everyone — the MAGA crowd and MSNBC baby boomers — for yet another attempted comeback in 2020 (if Trump is out) or 2024.”
Christie is either shrewd or pathetic. Maybe it’s shrewd to defend Trump (and placate the MAGA crowd) while selectively knocking Trump (just in case Trump totally implodes), but his naked calculations strike me as mostly pathetic. His book basically argues that Trump is held back from greatness by the grifters, schemers, and charlatans who surround and ill-serve him. Christie contends that if only Trump had better people in his employ, his “deal-making prowess” would shine through. (Yes, Christie actually praised Trump for “deal-making prowess.”)
The glaring flaw in Christie’s argument — the one he never manages to address — is that the buck stops with Trump, that Trump is surrounded by grifters, schemers and charlatans because they are his hires. Christie never invokes Trump’s boastful promise to hire “the best people,” and never measures the chasm that separates promise from the performance. In the book (page 233), he lauds Trump for running the 2016 campaign (“he always made the decisions himself”), but he absolves Trump of all decision-making in the White House, blaming everything on the underlings. In Christie’s telling, the buck stops everywhere — with the exception of the Oval Office.
Supposedly, the original sin was committed shortly after the 2016 election, when Christie was fired from his job running the Trump transition. According to the book, Christie had assembled “a first-class lineup” of prospective Cabinet nominees and stellar personnel, “an extraordinary effort…a couple dozen binders. Everything backed up on thumb drives.” But at the apparent behest of princeling Jared Kushner (avenging his dad, whom Christie had prosecuted as a U.S. attorney), all of Christie’s transition work went into the trash. As a result, writes Christie, Trump proceeded to audition “the good, the bad, and the who the hell knows…We are still paying the price.”
Yet Christie willfully fails to connect the most obvious dots: Trump is surrounded by idiots because he is an inept executive who condones and excuses ineptitude. Christie somehow refuses to blame the guy he still calls “my friend Donald.” In fact, Trump has “many of the qualities that have defined America’s leaders,” even though he fails to enumerate what they are. He describes the Trump administration as a “tragedy,” but refuses to blame the tragedian-in-chief.
In truth, the original sin in the Christie saga is that he attached himself to Trump in the first place. Christie writes virtually nothing about candidate Trump’s serial lies and demagoguery, and even though he says that Trump “knowingly” lied about him on the trail, he was oh so flattered when Trump phoned him, on the night of the New Hampshire primary, and said, “I so admire and respect you.” Within weeks, Christie was out of the race in toady mode, standing mute behind Trump on a stage in Florida: “Standing all alone, it’s very difficult to know what to do…I should have known better, and I should have just walked off that stage.”
But he still wants to be on that stage, and he’ll abase himself in a book if that’s what it takes. To borrow an image from “Citizen Kane,” that begging woman at the Reagan Presidential Library was his Rosebud sled. He dearly hopes it hasn’t gone up the chimney.
And speaking of governors:
If Democrats truly believe that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam should quit because he has forfeited his moral authority thanks to a racist ’80s yearbook photo, then I’m fine with setting a good example.
But here’s my question for the right-wingers who have joined the takedown chorus:
If a racist yearbook photo equals loss of moral authority, equals grounds for resignation, shouldn’t the same yardstick apply to Mitch McConnell (caught posing with a Confederate sympathizer, flanked by the racist stars and bars flag), Steve King (who’s still in Congress, even after wistfully pining for the days of “white supremacy”); Cindy Hyde-Smith (the Mississippi senator who posed five years ago wearing a Confederate hat; who has endorsed voter suppression, saying that she wanted to make voting “a little more difficult”); and, first and foremost, shouldn’t the same yardstick apply to the White House racist (who in the ’70s was nailed by the Justice Department for refusing to rent to black people and marking their applications as “C” for “Colored”; who for years flogged racist birther lies about Obama; and whose racist tropes about immigrants continue unabated)?