It’s easy being a prophet in hindsight, as anyone who ever wrote a book about their time in an administration could attest. On the other hand, how tough would it have been to predict that firing Michael Flynn wasn’t going to end the Russia-collusion curiosity? “As it turns out, I undersold it,” Chris Christie told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America. He thought it might last a year, but we’re going on two with no end in sight:
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 28, 2019
“He said, you know, Flynn’s the only guy who spoke to the Russians apparently, so I think this is going to end it — and I just laughed,” said Christie, who details what he said was a 2017 conversation with Trump and Kushner in his new book, “Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics.” …
“Mr. President, it’s unfortunate that I have to tell you this, but having done this myself for a living — we’re going to be talking about this on Valentines Day, February ‘18,” Christie, an ABC News contributor, described of his conversation with Trump in an interview on “Good Morning America” on Monday. “And they laughed out loud, and Jared told me I was crazy.”
“But they had no experience in government and no experience at this and what I was trying to do was help them and say, listen you guys need to get ready for a war,” Christie continued.
I don’t think we need any reminders that the Trumps had no experience in government, but they’ve had plenty of experience in rhetorical war. The Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya and two members of Trump’s family was enough of a reminder about just how far out of their depth they were. It didn’t matter in the end, because (a) their outsider/strongman messaging worked, and (b) Hillary Clinton was even worse — and she had plenty of experience. (Don’t forget that she had her brain trust surrounding her for years, and yet no one bothered to suggest that she get a State Department e-mail account just for cover on her secret e-mail system.)
Experience, to some extent, can be overrated when it comes to these matters. Some people are just bloody-minded and prone to assume they’re the smartest people in the room, and the dangers of hubris have been well known since the earliest Greek philosophers and dramatists. Richard Nixon had plenty of experience in government and a walkover in 1972, but that didn’t stop him and his team from letting their paranoia take over their common sense and good judgment. For that matter, where did Chris Christie’s experience lead him on Bridgegate and his epic faceplant on the shutdown in New Jersey? Remember this splendid optic, which Christie defended to the death?
That leads us to Christie’s other claim ABC covers today — that Trump had repeatedly asked Christie if he’d be prepared to take the running-mate spot on his ticket. When Trump asked in June 2016, Christie assumed that the offer would be shortly forthcoming:
Christie went on to describe the confusion that ensued in the coming weeks, saying that although on May 10 of that year Trump told The Associated Press that he was considering “five or six people,” the future president still called him one evening in June asking him if he was “ready.”
“Am I ready? Ready for what?” Christie asked.
“You know what,” Trump replied, according to the book.
At that point, the vice presidency “didn’t feel like an exercise anymore” or like “some theoretical possibility,” Christie wrote. “It felt real.”
But, influence from the rest of the Trump clan may have been what thwarted Christie’s name from being added to the ballot, and then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was chosen instead.
Perhaps it happened this way, at least from Christie’s perspective. However, there are a few reasons to be skeptical about it, too. First, Bridgegate was still very much an issue in New Jersey, a scandal which would have attached itself to the Trump campaign had Christie come on board. Second, what would Christie have brought to the ticket? Trump was already Trumpian enough for the ticket, and there was zero potential of carrying New Jersey even with the deeply unpopular governor on the ticket. By 2016, Christie had lost favor among conservatives, and even among moderates within the GOP, who were far more taken with John Kasich. At least Kasich might have mattered in Ohio (although it was moot in the end).
Mike Pence might not have been the only choice for the ticket (Nikki Haley arguably would have been better), but Pence was definitely a smart addition to the team. He brought polish and discipline to the ticket, solidified support among evangelicals, and bolstered connections to the Midwest. It didn’t take a lot of experience to suss that out, either. On top of all that, the Kushners’ antagonism toward Christie would have made a mess of the campaign. Christie would have been wise himself to decline, and arguably shouldn’t have taken the idea seriously in the first place.
Christie’s a smart man and a good analyst on matters that don’t have connections to his own political prospects. He’d have made a good Attorney General without some of the baggage noted above, which is a missed opportunity for all. Right now, however, he’s trying to carve out a niche for himself as a prophet in the GOP by either pointing out the blindingly obvious or inadvertently exposing his own blind spots. He’d have been better advised to leave the past alone and find a high-profile project to lead as a means of rebuilding those political prospects.