Discover more from Morning Shots
Chris Christie: Why I Want to Beat Trump
The Bulwark interview
Among all Americans, 59% say that Trump ought to end his campaign now that he’s facing federal charges, with another 11% saying he should do so if convicted on these charges. Among all registered voters who are not aligned with the Republican Party, there’s broad agreement: 85% say Trump should end his campaign now, and another 7% that he should end it if he’s convicted.
Instant classic: “ANGELS WITH BULL”.
Accountability watch: “Ex-Trump lawyer Eastman faces disciplinary trial over election scheme.”
Honor among thieves. Rolling Stone: “Team Trump Suspects His Former Chief of Staff Is a ‘Rat’.”
Some of Trump’s longtime allies and close advisers have taken to sardonically referring to Meadows by using the rat emoji in their private conversations, according to a source with knowledge of the situation and a screenshot reviewed by Rolling Stone.
More flying justices: Pro: Publica: “Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court.” (Alito is so unhappy about this story that he pre-butted it in the WSJ: “Justice Samuel Alito: ProPublica Misleads Its Readers.”)
Morning Shots is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
My chat with Chris Christie
As you probably know, on yesterday’s podcast, I sat down with Chris Christie. I’ve been thinking about how this conversation might go for a while now; way back in 2021, I actually wrote about what I might say.
On Friday’s podcast with Tom Nichols, we discussed the problem of Christie (starting at about 46:15 here). I admitted having mixed feelings. It’s hard to overstate the impact of his sycophantic enabling of Trump’s candidacy, and then of his presidency. He had more than five years to speak out… and didn’t. So the opportunism is unsubtle.
What Christie said is necessary: the GOP has to step away from the crazy. As Nichols noted, Christie’s call was “coming from inside the house,” and it may take someone like Christie to tell the rubes that they are being played. Matt Bai makes a similar point.
Christie can never be fully exonerated for his role in bringing the hateful margins of our politics into the mainstream. But if all those Never-Trumpers can’t do a thing to loosen Trump’s hold on the party, then maybe only a pro-Trumper can.
And maybe it takes a Bully to take on the Orange Bully. If Chris Christie does, in fact, go Full Chris Christie, he could pose a challenge within the GOP that DJT has not faced until now. Trump has climbed to power on the backs of wimps and weaklings. But what if he had to deal with someone who would stick a finger back into his gelatinous chest?
We don’t know, because it hasn’t been tried.
So, I tried to imagine how my conversation with Christie might go. Probably something like this:
“Governor Christie, thanks for coming today.
“F**k you, and everything you did, you pathetic f**king sell-out. What the f**k did you think would happen? What the f**k were you doing standing there like a total *sshat? Aren’t you embarrassed?”
But having vented, I’d say:
“I’m listening, and I’m going to watch.”
The former NJ governor knew that and still came on the podcast. So, kudos to him for that.
I actually thought about using my 2021 rant as an intro. But, in the end, cooler heads prevailed, and I regret to inform you that no actual f-bombs were used. But they were heavily implied.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Here’s an edited transcript of some our conversation:
Christie’s 2016 Trump Endorsement
Charlie Sykes: “We have to do the obligatory ‘What were you thinking?’ segment. And this will be my edited version of it because I have to say that it is still burned in my retina watching you stand behind Donald Trump.
And I was thinking, what were you thinking?
February 26th, 2016, here's the lede in Politico: ‘New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed presidential frontrunner Donald Trump on Friday in a stunning announcement that adds fuel to the real estate mogul’s runaway campaign.’
Governor, you arguably contributed as much as anyone to making Donald Trump happen and make him president. What were you thinking? The F-bomb is implied, OK?”
Chris Christie: “And I feel it, Charlie, so you don't even have to say it. Look, and I've heard it before. Here's what I was thinking: First, I was convinced after the South Carolina primary that the race was over. He had nearly won Iowa, he had won New Hampshire 2-1, and he had won South Carolina by double digits. And so, my view on it was it was over, and if anybody but Donald Trump had done that, whether it was Mitt Romney four years earlier, anybody else, the media would have been declaring it over. And in my view, it was over.
Secondly, I didn't want Hillary Clinton to be president under any circumstances.
Third, I'd had a relationship at that time with Donald Trump for 15 years. And so, my view of it was he listened to me and that I could make a difference—make him a better candidate. And if he won, make him a better president. Now, I turned out to be wrong. And I've admitted that I was wrong, but that was what I was thinking at the time and why I made the decision that I did. I do think that my endorsement has been overplayed a bit in terms of the impact that it had ultimately on the primary. I think he would have won anyway. But in the end, you want to know what I was thinking—those are three things I was thinking. One that it was over. Two, that given the nature of our relationship I thought I could make a better candidate, and if you want, a better president. And three, because I didn't want Hillary Clinton under any circumstances to be president.
And so, on part two, I was wrong. I couldn't make him a better candidate or better president. And I didn't have a full understanding of that at the time, but believe me, I came to understand that over the next number of years.”
Charlie Sykes: “The problem I had with the ‘I wanted to beat Hillary’ argument is this was February. It was still early. Yes, there was tremendous momentum, but it wasn't over. You were one of the first major political figures to endorse Donald Trump. There were a lot of other people who did not think that this thing was completely done. You could have gone a number of different directions. And yet…
Chris Christie: “They were wrong, Charlie. I was on that stage, OK? There was nobody on that stage that was left who had the ability to be able to beat Donald Trump. Marco Rubio had shown his failings by the time of the New Hampshire debate in 2016. Ted Cruz was a uniquely unlikable public figure who was not going sway anybody. John Kasich couldn't get one governor to endorse him, even when the only two alternatives left were Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. And Ben Carson, in my view, was never a serious candidate for president.
So, when you look at who was left in that race, I think it was over now. In the end, I had people at the tail-end talk about we should do something different like Mitt Romney. But I said to Romney, ‘The chance you had to make a difference in this race was if you had endorsed—he liked both me and Marco—either one of us before New Hampshire, where [it] could have had a really big impact.’ He chose to stay on the sidelines.
So, the other thing, Charlie, I think you need to think about here is that a lot of leaders of our party, including all but four of our governors—Paul LePage, Charlie Baker, and Larry Hogan endorsed me—and Governor Bentley, who was later convicted of a felony, endorsed John Kasich. Every other Republican governor sat on the sidelines and did nothing. And so, there are those of us who did something that you disagree with. I would tell you that guys like Scott Walker, guys like Doug Ducey, Bill Haslam, Phil Bryant in Mississippi, Rick Scott in Florida—they all sat by and did nothing. And I would argue to you that contributed just as much, if not more, to Donald Trump getting the nomination. than my endorsement did.”
Pardoning Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner
Charlie Sykes: “Talk to me a little bit about the way Donald Trump has used the pardon power of the presidency, used it to, at least according to the Mueller report, to obstruct justice, but also to reward friends and to let Jared Kushner's… father go free. So, all presidents have a pardon power. Do you believe that Donald Trump abused his pardon power? Can you put it in some historic context?”
Chris Christie: “Well, look, I think that he abused it first and foremost by using it for a family member. I just don't think that's appropriate to do. And I don't know of any other time in American history where a president used their pardon power to pardon a member of their family.
And I think the pardon of Charlie Kushner was not only ill-advised from that perspective, but having been the person who prosecuted that case, … he pled guilty to every count of a criminal complaint. I think there's no question about his guilt in what he did, and the really horrible nature of the crimes that he committed, ironically against his own family members. And that's what made it even wilder that Trump used his pardon power to pardon Charlie Kushner. But I think in a general sense, he used it in the way that he uses a lot of power and authority, which is to make himself look more powerful and to strike retribution against people or institutions that have disagreed with him.
And so, if the Justice Department under Bill Barr, brings a case against Roger Stone, he decides to exercise his clemency authority for Roger Stone —the same thing for Michael Flynn. These are people who in my view didn't deserve to have a pardon, but I don't think Trump gave it to them because he thought they deserved it. …
I think his use of the pardon power just shows you how he feels about any of the powers of the presidency. They're there for his personal use, his personal aggrandizement and his personal ego satisfaction.”
Breaking Point with Trump
Charlie Sykes: “OK, so what was your breaking point and why did you stick with him through that entire first term? What was it when you said, ‘I'm just done with this. I am all out of bleeps to give.’”
Chris Christie: “It was Election Night 2020, when I was sitting on the set at ABC, and he said that the election was stolen—from behind the seal of the president in the East Room of the White House. I just said that I know there's no way he could know that the election was stolen and yet there are going to be millions of Americans who are going to hear this coming out of the mouth of the president of the United States and they're going to believe it… And, I looked at George Stephanopoulos while we were watching the speech and I said, ‘Come to me right after the speech first.’ And he said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Believe me, you'll understand why when you do it.’ And I went after him hard—hard enough that I got a call that night right afterwards from the family, complaining about my comments. And I just said, ‘Look, this is ridiculous. He can't be saying this stuff. He has no proof of it. It looks like he's going to lose this thing. And he lost it. And it's his responsibility. He needs to step up and take the responsibility for having lost to Joe Biden.’ And that really was the end of our relationship.
We spoke once or twice during November and December about the same topic of a stolen election—and my continued comments against that, refuting it. And the last time we spoke was in mid-December of 2020, when I called his legal team a national embarrassment. And he called me to complain about that.
We had an argument again about conceding the election and welcoming Biden to the White House and going to his inauguration. And he told me he would never, ever, ever do that. He said, ‘What else you got, Chris?’ And I said, ‘I've got nothing else, Mr. President, because there is nothing else for you.’ And he said, ‘Well then I guess we've got nothing left to talk to each other about.’ And he hung up, and we haven't spoken since. That's two and a half years now.
Trump knows he lost
Charlie Sykes: “Does he believe that he won that election? Because … as recently as last night, he's talking with Bret Baier and Bret Baier asked him this sort of softball question about what will it take to get the swing voters from the suburbs back and Donald Trump's answer was, ‘Well, you know, I won in 2020.’ He is still saying that. And he has persuaded tens of millions of your fellow Republicans to believe it as well. So, did he believe it then? I know it's hard to get into his mind, but does he sincerely believe it or is it just his brand that he can never acknowledge loss?”
Chris Christie: “No, he doesn't believe it. He knows he lost. And I can tell you because during debate prep, he was afraid that he was already losing and knew that he needed to do well in the debates to try to make up the gap. So, he was talking to me about that at the time, Charlie. So, I know he knows he lost, but I will tell you his philosophy is if you say something enough times, even if it's untrue, it eventually becomes true. And he has said that to me and to my wife directly. And so, I absolutely believe that he knows he lost the election, but his ego is so damaged by the fact that he's the first person to ever lose a general election to Joe Biden outside the state of Delaware that he can't deal with it. His ego can't deal with it. He can't deal with being a loser, which is what he is. And that's why in his heart of hearts, he absolutely knows he lost.
Will Trump debate?
Charlie Sykes: “All right, let's talk about the debates and getting on the stage and what you need to do to get there. Do you think that you will ever be on a stage with Donald Trump? And I ask that as a skeptic that Donald Trump will ever participate in any debate, much less a debate where you have to go up against Chris Christie. What do you think? Will this ever happen?”
Chris Christie: “I believe it will for two reasons. One is his ego. He may skip a debate and if he does, well then, he will hear me and maybe some others if they decide to go after him and his record pretty good. And the only chance he’ll have to respond will be on Truth Social, which I think will be an ineffective response for him. So, I think his ego wouldn't permit him to admit that he was dodging it and he would hate those charges being levied against him without his ability to respond.
But secondly, I also think it would hurt him with his voters, Charlie, because his voters support him, and one of the biggest reasons they do is because they see him as a tough guy and a fighter. Well, if he's unwilling to get on the stage and defend his record, fight for his record, fight for their record and the things they believe in, I think it will damage him with a number of his voters. He'll look like he's dodging. And they won't like that because that's inconsistent with his brand. And so, I think for those two reasons, he will eventually be on a stage, no matter who else is up there. But will he miss the first one or two? That's possible, but I think eventually he will be up on that stage.”
Why is Christie doing this?
Charlie Sykes: Why are you doing this? You had a pretty comfortable life. You have to know the odds are stacked against you. You have to know that you are going to be punched in the face over and over and over again. So, Governor Christie, why are you doing this?”
Chris Christie: “Because it needs to be done, because the truth matters, Charlie, the truth matters. And if our country is going continue to be a great country that does big things and leads the world and gives better opportunity for our children and grandchildren, we got to start with the truth.
And what I saw happening in this race was that nobody else seemed willing or able to do it. And my wife and I talked about this a lot as we were considering it. And she continued to encourage me to do it because she said, ‘You know him better than anyone. You are uniquely qualified in terms of your skill set to be able to take him on directly. And I know you're not afraid of him.’ And she said, ‘I don't want you sitting here months from now saying no one's doing this. I can't believe what's happening to our country. You got to go out and try to make a difference.’ And that's what my whole public career has been about, Charlie, is taking on big things and trying to make a difference. And I’ve succeeded more than I failed, but I failed too.
And this may wind up not working out. Anybody other than Donald Trump who tells you they know what their path is to winning this race is full of it. They don't.
But the one thing I know for sure is the only way that you defeat the frontrunner and become the frontrunner is to go after that frontrunner directly and prosecute the case against him.
And I would say, ‘I don't think there's anybody in the race who has more experience or a better skill set to prosecute the case against Donald Trump than I do. And if that leads to me being the nominee, which is going to be my effort every day, then I could tell you I will do the exact same thing against Joe Biden in November and prosecute that case. And I think that's the way to get the White House back … I don't want this country to be known as a country that tolerates falsehoods, that doesn't stand for the truth. And that's why I'm doing it. And look, there'll be some people who think that would be a great venture and some people who don't. But it's just not my mission here. My mission is to win the presidency. And at the same time... It's to take down Donald Trump because of what he's done to my party and what he's done to our country.”
From today’s Bulwark:
Scoring Trump, Biden, and Hillary on Handling Classified Documents by Philip Rotner.
Hunter Biden and the Vindication of the Rule of Law by Kim Wehle
How to Stifle Groups Like the Oath Keepers by Michael Breen and Kenneth Harbaugh
Seven Lessons the United States Can Learn from Other Democracies by Rachael Dean Wilson and Kevin Johnson