There’s never been solid evidence of Chris Christie ordering the closure of Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge back in 2013, Save Jerseyans, but even many public Christie supporters silently conceded in private that the Republican governor’s “you’re with us or you’re against us” attitude helped create the conditions for one of the better known acts of political retaliation in contemporary U.S. history.
So you can’t blame those of us who’ve been watching Christie closely for 15 (!) years or more for appearing a bit bemused when, at a recent Republican Jewish Coalition event, the former Trump ally accused his former ally of ruling the GOP by fear.
“It’s time to stop being afraid of any one person,” Christie thundered from the podium. “It is time to stand up for the principles and beliefs that we founded this party and this country on. I am ready for that fight.”
Here’s the clip:
Christie: “It’s time to stop being afraid of any one person. It is time to stand up for the principles and beliefs that we founded this party and this country on. I am ready for that fight.” pic.twitter.com/aqFMnywC3J
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) November 19, 2022
Pot, meet kettle? You don’t know the half of it.
Christie developed a decent record as governor from a strictly policy perspective (with some very notable exceptions like the automatic gas tax increase deal that’s still haunting us at the pump today), but he also ruled selfishly and with an iron fist. Tales of Christie’s pettiness both on and off of the campaign trail are legendary, and New Jersey Republicans lost ground along the way.
The Bridgegate saga is well-travelled territory. The mayor of Fort Lee (a Democrat) had reportedly declined to endorse Christie when may others decided not to buck the GOP rising star or his machine allies on the other side of the aisle. What’s more, the admittedly juvenile lane closures got disproportionate attention and distracted from the underlying story: a governor using his front office to drops carrots (and sticks) on the heads of any Republican or Democrat who wouldn’t go along with his 2013 reelection landslide strategy, believed at the time by Christie operatives and allies to be his launching pad for a successful 2016 presidential candidacy.
Most of his bullying was less dramatic though well-covered by the Media. Behind the scenes, there isn’t a reasonably well connected Republican in New Jersey who hasn’t either (1) been on the receiving end of a Christie tongue-lashing or (2) knows someone who’d been verbally spanked by his front office for not towing the company line. During those years, New Jersey Republicans were expected to have a singular focus: the advancement of the Christie brand. If he needed to cut your head off to appease a local Democrat chieftain to enable some elaborate legislative or political manuever? So be it. You should’ve felt lucky to serve the throne. You’re welcome, by the way.
There was that one time in New Hampshire when he blasted “one crazy mayor down in South Jersey say this is worse flooding than Sandy” after a particularly brutal storm left North Wildwood in rough shape. The GOP mayor in question had supported Christie twice, but Chris Christie once again proved himself willing to throw a supporter over board on the presidential trail if he believed it would help him.
I’ll never forget my personal encounter back in 2014 at a New Brunswick birthday fundraiser for the governor. Mitt Romney flew into town to raise cash for Christie’s NJGOP coffers which Christie ultimately used as a personal ATM for his national politicking rather than supporting Jersey-based campaigns – a story for another time. While covering the event, NJGOP staff kindly invited me into the VIP room where I had the chance to meet Mitt (a few years before he want off the deep end after contracting TDS). After saying “hi” to the Romneys, Christie materialized beside me and, in a joking but unambiguously-trying-to-send-a-message tone, he brought up my then-recent criticism of his administration and mused ‘I might just have to kill ya!’ assuming, of course, I kept it up.
Now to be clear: I didn’t feel physically threatened or concerned about ending up in a garbage bag at the bottom of the Raritan River. Still, this wasn’t a chance encounter or off-the-cuff remark. He had delivered a clearly intended message to a 20-something who had loyally promoted him for years… we don’t like what you’re writing, and there will be political consequences.
I had a couple of other encounters with CJC. I attended a Christie town hall in Haddon Heights, New Jersey (he was famous or infamous for those performances, depending upon your perspective), and he went on a rant about talking heads with no governing experience. While he could’ve been speaking about any number of people, a reporter from a major radio station remarked as we ran into each other after the event that it sure seemed like he was looking in my direction when he said it. Most recently, a few years ago, he texted me randomly one evening to complain about my (accurate) commentary on his poor stewardship of the New Jersey Republican Party. When I offered him the opportunity to interview with me? And set the record straight? He declared his lack of interest in an on-the-record interview. Were that true, I wondered aloud to my amused wife, then why did he text me?
As I’ve opined on many occasions since, the Christie ’16 bubble burst because (1) the bully (Christie) stopped bullying other bullies and began picking on ordinary folks, and (2) Trump came along and did Christie better than Christie. It’s really pretty simple.
None of that makes Christie a less talented politician or capable administrator, only one whose fatal flaw (a willingness to do anything and demand anything in pursuit of his own ambitions) doomed his own quest to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m not even saying he’s entirely wrong about Trump! Christie often makes important points which makes his fall from grace all the more tragic.
What I am saying: when it comes to his accusations concerning Trump as tyrant, it certainly takes one to know one. Said another way, it’s arguably the right message from absolutely the wrong messenger.
MATT ROONEY is SaveJersey.com’s founder and editor-in-chief, a practicing New Jersey attorney, and host of ‘The Matt Rooney Show’ on 1210 WPHT every Sunday from 8-10PM EST.