Chris Christie is clearly poised to win big tonight, rolling up a re-election tally that will presumably boost his stock as a ’16 presidential prospect, but that doesn’t mean he’s universally loved within the Republican ranks.
Far from it, actually. Just check out the inside skinny about the guv, as detailed in Double Down.
This new book, on the shelves today, is a juicy-for-junkies recap of the ’12 campaign, reported and written by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, the same guys who did Game Change four years ago. Just like its predecessor, Double Down is a great forum for backstage insiders who live to dish and love to settle old scores. As the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold – and none is colder, in this campaign recap, than the Christie entree. He alienated virtually the entire top tier of the Mitt Romney team, and now it’s payback time.
For sheer entertainment value, nothing beats an intramural Republican bout. If Double Down becomes an HBO movie (HBO has optioned it), the scenes with Christie would be priceless. And it’d be a crime not to cast Steve Schirripa, the guy who played Bobby Bacala on The Sopranos. He’d do justice to the governor whom the Romney team found to be “suave as sandpaper and morbidly obese…overbearing and hard to work with…insisted on private jets, lavish spreads of food, space for a massive entourage…like something out of The Sopranos.” Or, as Romney strategist Stuart Stevens described Christie (despite being a Christie fan), “He sounds like the biggest a–hole in the world.”
Plus, Romney didn’t like fat people; sitting on his bus, he’d make disparaging remarks about fat people on the sidewalk. Or, as the authors delicately put it, Romney “cared about fitness and was prone to poke fun at those who didn’t….Romney marveled at Christie’s girth, his difficulties in making his way down the narrow aisle of a campaign bus. Watching a video of Christie without his suit jacket on, Romney cackled to his aides, ‘Guys! Look at that!'”
But the qualms about Christie’s body and personality were chump change compared to the stuff that turned up during the vetting process. Christie made Romnney’s short list for veep (along with Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, and Marco Rubio), which meant that he had to be thoroughly and confidentially scrutinized. And it turned out, according to the book, that “the dossier on the Garden State governor’s background was littered with potential land mines.”
And we know this because Romney alums leaked the private vetting material to the authors. That by itself is significant. It suggests that even as Christie continues to ascend, there are people in high GOP circles who are determined to wee-wee on his parade.
Check out these book passages:
The vetters were stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record. There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government (travel expense) rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons.
There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official—and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act.
There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing.
There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race.
Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.” (Todd also oversaw a family foundation whose activities and purpose raised eyebrows among the vetters.)
And all that was on top of a litany of glaring matters that sparked concern on (the vetting) team: Christie’s other lobbying clients, his investments overseas, the YouTube clips that helped make him a star but might call into doubt his presidential temperament, and the status of his health.
The Romney campaign asked the Christie camp for extensive documentation on almost all those issues, including his medical records – only to be stonewalled. As one follow-up 35-page memo dryly stated, “If Christie’s possible selection is to move forward, these items should be obtained.” They were never obtained. In the end, according to the authors, veep vetter Ted Newton “told his colleagues (that) if Christie had been in the nomination fight against us, we would have destroyed him – he wouldn’t be able to run for governor again. When you look below the surface, Newton said, it’s not pretty.”
So. What do we make of all that?
It’s conceivable, of course, that Christie’s Jersey past won’t mean squat to primary voters hungry for a White House win. But the fact that some high-ranking Republicans were willing to leak such damaging confidential information about him – a major breach of protocol – suggests that there is much animus in the ranks, and that his path to the nomination will be rocky indeed. The dish on Christie was revenge for 2012, but it’s really a shot across his bow for 2016.
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