Politics & Media
Jun 09, 2023, 05:57AM

Christie Pulls Me Back In 

Thoughts of a onetime Republican.

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Splice Today’s proprietor recently asked if I could “help him out” in understanding why David French offers criticism of Republicans with no indication of what nominee he’d support, or, alternatively, any acknowledgement that French’s done with the party. I couldn’t help much; I may’ve “embraced the Frum/Kristol/French cabal” (true enough, at least re Frum), but I don’t often read French’s (paywalled) columns, and I’ve openly turned away from the GOP. Plus, I’ve been writing mostly about futuristic topics lately.

Still, much like with Michael Corleone’s complaint that “they pull me back in,” I can’t escape a fascination with Republican politics, contemplating what I think of various GOP presidential hopefuls and under what, if any, circumstances I might vote for one of them. That’s especially so now that my former governor, whom I once supported and later vowed never to vote for again for any office, Chris Christie, has entered the race.

A few years ago, my brother Mark, a gregarious Democrat, saw Christie at Penn Station early one morning and chatted with him, taking a joint selfie (shown above). Mark, with whom I share a birthday three years apart, mentioned that, as he’d seen somewhere, Christie shares his birthday as well, including the year. “We’re twins!” the New Jersey politico enthused. My brother replied, “Meh.”

I was once a Christie enthusiast. In 2009, having moved to New Jersey two years before, I voted for him in the Republican primary; I recall my mother, a staunch conservative, asking what I saw in this candidate, as a further-right option was available in Steve Lonegan. In fact, my attachment to the right was wavering, and Christie seemed likely to be a moderating influence within the party. That November, I voted for him against incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, touted by then-V.P. Biden as “America’s Governor.”

Christie reaped high popularity in his first term, including significant support from Democrats. His pugnacity seemed to be in the service of a reform agenda. He cruised to reelection in 2013 against a hapless Democrat. Still, that election season gave a glimpse of Christie’s self-serving decision-making. The Governor spent millions in state funds to hold an October special election to fill an open U.S. Senate seat, rather than on Election Day; that way Christie avoided any danger of losing votes from the ballot presence of Cory Booker, as minority voters were expected to show up in large numbers for the Senate candidate and vote the Democratic line.

Bridgegate, the scandal over lane closures of seeming political retaliation for a mayor’s endorsement decision, also fed my doubts about Christie’s character, though it didn’t prevent me from voting for his reelection. By the time Christie left office in 2014, his popularity had cratered; my enthusiasm for him was diminished but not dead. In 2015, as Christie announced his run for president, he was on my short list of preferred candidates, albeit lower than John Kasich. I got an early warning that the party’s base was moving in a different direction when some readers of the financial magazine I helped edit complained that our campaign cover montage didn’t include Donald Trump.

In February 2016, when Christie followed-up his withdrawal from the race by endorsing Trump, seemingly a pivotal moment in the latter’s march to the nomination, my loathing for the New Jersey politician began. Christie’s self-serving calculations were evident again; that he might become the Vice President or Attorney General in a Trump presidency, and the prospective damage that presidency might cause to the U.S. was secondary. When candidate and then President Trump repeatedly humiliated the sycophantic Christie, I saw this as one of the populist would-be autocrat’s few redeeming qualities.

In the current campaign cycle, Christie’s self-reinvention as Trump’s nemesis could be dismissed just another calculated gambit, but to me it has the ring of truth. The man has nothing to lose. His poll numbers are in the toilet, his image as acrid as the fire-befouled air I now breathe in North Jersey. Surely, Christie has anger at the demagogue for whom he went out on a limb for such negative reward, and maybe that anger’s laced with some public-spirited concern about what Trump wrought, or at least preoccupation with what Christie’s own impact on history, via his embrace of Trump, will turn out to be.

In the unlikely event that Christie’s the Republican nominee, I’d have to consider voting for him. There’s a good chance I’d stick with the Democratic nominee, presumed to be Biden, but at least there’d be a choice to be made. There’s no scenario where I’d vote for Trump or Ron DeSantis. Nikki Haley would’ve gotten my consideration, until she started talking during this campaign. Tim Scott hasn’t yet lost the possibility, though his Fort Sumter nonsense came close. I’d never vote for Pence, regardless of how he’s now veering into Christie’s anti-Trump lane. Asa Hutchinson has yet to show he merits attention. Vivek Ramaswamy could’ve offered something of value but didn’t.

Over a year ago, I wrote a piece about the Republicans’ censure of Liz Cheney, and closed with: “If there’s someday a President Liz Cheney, the ill-considered censure will have helped make it happen.” Splice Today’s proprietor ran the piece, but also offered to bet me, a few hundred dollars, that there’d never be a President Liz Cheney. I didn’t take the bet, nominally because I wasn’t sure how many election cycles before we’d know, but ultimately because I saw it as an all-but-certain money-loser. Some massive turn-around, where Republican voters say they were wrong, isn’t in the cards.

Still, I hope that Christie gets some traction in going after Trump, and in casting his bile at other Republican candidates for their manifest flaws, including their reticence to criticize Trump, or to say anything that might offend MAGA voters. Christie’s an imperfect messenger, but a loud one, and, in a frenzied situation, that’s what counts.

—Kenneth Silber is author of In DeWitt’s Footsteps: Seeing History on the Erie Canal and posts at Post.News.


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